Dozens Die in Blasts in Northern, Western Iraq

By Amit R. Paley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 19, 2006

BAGHDAD, Sept. 18 -- Suicide bombers killed at least 34 people in attacks in western and northern Iraq on Monday, underscoring the continuing violence throughout the country as U.S. and Iraqi forces focus on tamping down attacks in the capital.

In Tal Afar, north of Baghdad, a man wearing an explosive vest blew himself up at 6:15 p.m. in a line of residents waiting to buy cylinders of cooking gas, killing 21 people and wounding 18 others, said Brig. Gen. Saeed Jubury, a police spokesman in Mosul.

Earlier in the afternoon, a suicide car bomber slammed into a recruiting center for Iraqi security forces in Ramadi, capital of Anbar province, killing 13 recruits and wounding 10 others, said Talib Mushtaq al-Obaydi, a doctor at Ramadi General Hospital. A statement from the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq asserted responsibility for the attack.

Mohammed al-Askari, a spokesman for the Defense Ministry, said in a statement that the recent violence in outlying provinces is a result of the new security plan in the capital, which "has not left room for terrorism in Baghdad."

Still, horrific bloodshed remains routine in Baghdad, where nearly 100 people were found dead in one 24-hour period last week. Many residents remain fearful of security forces meant to protect them, particularly police from the Interior Ministry, which is thought to be infiltrated by militias and death squads.

Starting next month, Iraq's entire national police force will undergo a month-long training course that includes inspections of individual units that could identify corrupt officers or militia members, according to a Western adviser to the Interior Ministry.

The adviser, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press, said the inspections, which have already begun, include reviews of payroll and inventory records. "If you have a police chief that is selling weapons or body armor on the black market," he said, "that is going to be discovered. If someone is getting rid of Sunnis on the force, there's an administrative trail to get rid of them."

Brig. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, an Interior Ministry spokesman, confirmed the training program but said there would not be any effort to root out rogue elements or death squads thought to be rampant among the police ranks.

"We will not lose trust with our forces by doing tests on them," he said. "Cleaning the bad elements out of the Interior Ministry is the duty of the inspector general, it's not our duty."

In the southern city of Basra, about 600 protesters gathered in the streets and burned an effigy of Pope Benedict XVI to decry a speech last week quoted a 14th-century Byzantine emperor as saying that the prophet Muhammad brought "only evil and inhuman" things to the world. The pope said in a statement Sunday that he was "deeply sorry" about the reaction in some countries to his remarks.

The U.S. military on Monday also announced the deaths of two soldiers in Baghdad on Sunday, one killed by small arms fire and the other when his vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb. No other details were released.

Special correspondents K.I. Ibrahim and Naseer Nouri contributed to this report.

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