By Joshua Partlow and Naseer Nouri
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
BAGHDAD, June 26 -- A series of explosions targeting crowded markets, police officers and military patrols killed at least 38 people one day after the Iraqi government proposed a national reconciliation plan aimed at undermining the insurgency.
A bomb loaded on a bicycle exploded in the central market in a small town near Baqubah, a Sunni insurgent stronghold north of Baghdad, killing 18 people and wounding 43, according to Laith Ali, an official at Baqubah General Hospital. The Associated Press cited a morgue official at the hospital who put the death toll at 25 people, with 33 others wounded.
A second crowded market was targeted in a blast in the predominantly Shiite Muslim city of Hilla, about 60 miles south of Baghdad. At least six people were killed and 56 others wounded in that incident, said Capt. Muthana Ahmad of the Babil province police. The Associated Press reported 15 people had died in the attack.
The violence came as the U.S. military reported that a Marine assigned to Regimental Combat Team 5 died from combat wounds suffered in the turbulent western province of Anbar. The Marine's name was withheld until family could be notified.
Meanwhile, more attacks targeting police and army patrols in the Baghdad neighborhoods of Mansour and Saydiya killed at least 14 people, according to the Interior Ministry.
The U.S. military on Monday offered more details about the attack on three U.S. soldiers who were guarding a canal crossing south of the town of Yusufiyah on June 16.
As part of a manhunt for the insurgents responsible, U.S.-led forces have killed two members of al-Qaeda in Iraq, detained 36 other people and discovered six weapons including suicide bombers' vests and rocket launchers, the U.S. military said.
"We are not going to stop until we hunt down, interrogate or kill every one of these people," said Maj. Todd Breasseale, a Marine spokesman in Baghdad. "These are terribly, terribly bad people. Even if they supported in the most peripheral role, they are equally guilty."
With only the brutalized remains to work with, military medical examiners confirmed the identities of the two soldiers who were missing after the attack -- Pfc. Kristian Menchaca, 23, of Houston and Pfc. Thomas L. Tucker, 25, of Madras, Ore. A third soldier, Spec. David J. Babineau, 25, of Springfield, Mass., died in the initial assault.
The remains of the two missing men, which were "severely traumatized," were found next to a dirt road near the village of Mufaraji, northwest of Yusufiyah, after tips by a local Iraqi tribal leader and one of the people detained, the military said. During the three-day search, which involved more than 8,000 coalition and Iraqi troops, about 10 improvised bombs exploded in "harassing attacks," the military said. Three bombs lined the road to the two soldiers' remains, found near a power plant, and one of the dead soldiers was found with a bomb between his legs.
Two of the 36 detainees have admitted to being in al-Qaeda in Iraq and of the two people killed, one was a senior lieutenant in the group, the military said. Breasseale praised the intelligence provided by local religious officials.
"These are local sheiks and imams and political leaders, and they are sick of this sort of thing happening in their home towns," Breasseale said. "We are gathering the people who are responsible for these killings."
The violence in Iraq is driven by a Sunni Muslim insurgency fighting a new Shiite-led Iraqi government. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki this week offered amnesty to some insurgents and expressed a desire to open a political dialogue with his opponents.
Al-Sabah newspaper reported Monday that seven insurgent groups supported the reconciliation plan and may be ready to announce a cease-fire. But Ahmad Essawi, of the Islamic Army of Iraq, said he spoke with 13 factions in the insurgency and "they were all astonished that there are resistance factions that want to negotiate."
"None of them is negotiating, and will not negotiate, because we know they do not want to negotiate but to wipe us out," he said. "The departure of their last soldier is our goal; our policy is combat, and hard strikes against all forms of foreign presence on our land. So no negotiations."
Naseer al-Ani, a member of the country's largest Sunni political organization, the Iraqi Islamic Party, said that there was a chance the reconciliation plan could fail "because there are some who do not want it to succeed."
"There are forces which are working against the reconciliation, and do not want anything good to happen to the Iraqi people," he said.
Special correspondents K.I. Ibrahim in Baghdad, Hassan Shammari in Baqubah and other Washington Post staff contributed to this report.