By Karin Brulliard
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
BAGHDAD, April 24 -- A suicide bomber rammed an explosives-rigged truck into a U.S. military outpost near Baqubah on Monday, killing nine soldiers and wounding 20 in one of the deadliest single ground attacks on U.S. forces since the start of the war in Iraq, military officials said early Tuesday.
Suicide attackers rarely penetrate defenses that surround American troops, but a 10-week-old U.S. counterinsurgency strategy has placed them in outposts and police stations that some soldiers say have made them more vulnerable.
The military said the attack occurred near the capital of Diyala province, about 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, where U.S. soldiers have been engaged in increasingly fierce fighting with Sunni insurgents. A 10th soldier was killed Monday in a roadside bombing in the Diyala town of Muqdadiyah, the military said.
The truck bombing caused the highest number of U.S. fatalities in a ground attack since Aug. 3, 2005, when 14 Marines were killed after their amphibious assault vehicle hit a roadside bomb in Haditha.
Another car bombing Monday at an Iraqi police checkpoint near Diyala's provincial council headquarters in Baqubah killed seven Iraqi policemen and wounded 13, the military said. The council was about to begin a meeting to discuss its 2007 budget, the U.S. military said.
As fighters have fled an ongoing security crackdown in Baghdad, attacks have risen against American and Iraqi forces in Diyala, where the U.S. military is sending more than 2,000 additional troops to battle the insurgency. U.S. soldiers have recently moved into at least seven small outposts in and around Baqubah.
Monday's deaths bring to at least 56 the number of U.S. soldiers killed in Diyala since November. The province has become the third-deadliest for Americans this year, following Baghdad and Anbar provinces. The attack also injured an Iraqi civilian, the U.S. military said.
Bombings in different parts of the country Monday killed at least another 44 people and wounded more than 100, police said. Twin car bombings killed at least 19 outside Ramadi, about 60 miles west of Baghdad, and a suicide bomber detonated explosives inside a restaurant near Baghdad's fortified Green Zone, killing seven and injuring 14.
A U.S. military effort to curb violence by building walls around some Baghdad neighborhoods generated continued controversy Monday, as residents protested barriers now surrounding a Sunni enclave and Iraq's government pledged to find alternatives to the strategy.
U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, speaking at a Baghdad news conference, said the United States would "respect the wishes of the government" but stopped short of saying the walls would come down. The city's top Iraqi military spokesman, meanwhile, insisted they would not.
"We will continue to construct the security barriers in the Adhamiyah neighborhood," Brig. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi said at a news conference, referring to the controversial new wall bordering a district of Baghdad that U.S. military officers say is a Sunni insurgent stronghold. "Setting up barriers is one thing, and building barriers is another. These are movable barriers that can be removed."
The Adhamiyah wall is part of a U.S. military plan to cordon off at least 10 of the city's most violent neighborhoods in an effort to limit the movement of militants. In some of the sealed-off areas, which U.S. military officers refer to as "gated communities," Iraqi and American soldiers will issue badges to residents or use biometric devices to record their fingerprints and eye patterns, military officials said.
U.S. military officials say the walls are meant to protect, not divide, and were designed by both American and Iraqi commanders in the field.
Debate over walling off neighborhoods began last week, when the U.S. military issued a press release about the construction of a three-mile-long, 12-foot-high wall separating Adhamiyah from surrounding Shiite neighborhoods. The partition -- dubbed "The Great Wall of Adhamiyah" by soldiers -- was intended to curb sectarian violence in the area, the statement said.
The barrier quickly drew criticism from Adhamiyah residents, who said it would stoke sectarian tensions by separating them from Shiites and likened it to the barriers Israel has constructed around the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, which are much-maligned in the Arab world. Other critics joined the outcry, among them human rights activists and representatives of anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, one of whom told reporters in Najaf that the walls amounted to a "siege of the city."
On Sunday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told reporters in Cairo that he had ordered a halt to construction of the walls. Maliki was in Egypt for a meeting with Arab leaders. In an interview on the al-Arabiya television network Monday, government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh appeared to back away from Maliki's demand, saying only that the government was examining other measures for securing Adhamiyah. He declined to discuss possible alternatives, citing security concerns.
The walls have "political and psychological dimensions," Dabbagh said, speaking to the network from Cairo. "It might solve a security crisis. But it has side effects just like medicine. Medicine has side effects that sometimes can be more harmful than the pain itself."
In Adhamiyah, hundreds of residents protested, shouting and carrying banners that called the barricades a "big prison."
"It is not a solution to turn the city into cantons," one elderly man told television reporters.
Dawood al-Azami, deputy director of the Adhamiyah local council, said 90 percent of respondents to a survey distributed in the neighborhood on Sunday were strongly opposed to the wall, the Associated Press reported.
U.S. military officials say many residents of the city's newly walled-off neighborhoods are pleased with the barriers. Mohammad al-Kabi is one.
Kabi, a building contractor who lives about 500 yards from the Adhamiyah wall, said he saw 20 trailers rumble into the area Sunday night, carrying tall blast barriers to add to the partition. He said he welcomed their arrival.
Checkpoints and road closures already have severed his ties to friends and business partners on the other side of wall, he said. There used to be daily clashes on his street. Now, with the wall going up, he said he feels more protected.
"There are no other options," said Kabi, a Shiite Muslim. "It has reduced the violence. The snipers are not shooting at us anymore."
Correspondents Sudarsan Raghavan and Joshua Partlow in Baghdad, and staff writers Josh White and Thomas E. Ricks in Washington contributed to this report.