Baghdad Blast Targets Sunni Tribal Leaders

By John Ward Anderson and Naseer Nouri
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, June 26, 2007

BAGHDAD, June 25 -- Five bombings struck Iraq on Monday, killing at least 54 people, including 12 who died in a suicide attack at a Baghdad hotel frequented by members of Iraq's parliament and Chinese diplomats, U.S. military and Iraqi security officials said.

Police and witnesses said that the Mansour Hotel blast apparently targeted a group of Sunni tribal leaders from Anbar province west of Baghdad, killing six of them.

The tribes have formed an umbrella group, called the Anbar Salvation Council, which is cooperating with U.S. forces in an offensive against the Sunni extremist group al-Qaeda in Iraq.

The council recently has been racked by internal divisions, and the group of tribal leaders meeting at the hotel recently had broken away from the main council, according to Sabir al-Dulaimi, 47, a leader who was to attend the hotel meeting but said he arrived late because of traffic.

"The indiscriminate attacks killed numerous civilians, some of whom were Sunni and Shi'a sheiks meeting in Baghdad in an attempt to further national reconciliation," U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker and Gen. David H. Petraeus, chief commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, said in a joint statement.

The dead included Fasal al-Gaood, a former governor of Anbar, and Rahim al-Maliki, a well-known poet who was also a producer and anchor at state-run al-Iraqiya TV. The network ran a black mourning ribbon across the corner of its screen Monday.

"Receiving this news about the killing of Sheik Fasal is a catastrophe," his son, Belasim al-Gaood, said in a telephone interview from Amman, Jordan. "He was Iraq's first man, and he was defending all Iraqis, not only Sunnis."

Maj. Gen. Jihad al-Jabri of the Interior Ministry said on al-Iraqiya that its investigation was focusing on people inside the hotel -- either guests or employees -- because the explosive vest used was too big to go unnoticed at the hotel's security checkpoints.

In the single deadliest incident of the day, a suicide truck bomber drove a loaded oil tanker into the side of the police station in Baiji, about 125 miles north of the capital, causing a huge explosion that collapsed part of the building, police Capt. Bilal al-Qayissi said. He said the 8:20 a.m. blast killed 30 policemen and prisoners held at the station and wounded 55 other people.

"A ball of fire came out of the police station and hit the shops across the street," said Ahmed Abdullah, 30, the owner of a nearby tire repair shop. "It was just like a horror movie. The last thing I remember is that my clothes and hair caught fire," he recalled at a local hospital.

A U.S. military spokesman, Lt. Col. Christopher C. Garver, relayed a different version of events, saying that the police station, which was a joint security center with Iraqi police and U.S. troops, was hit by two car bombs, followed by an attack from insurgents firing small arms and rocket-propelled grenades. He said Iraqi forces repelled the attack. There were no reports of U.S. casualties, he said.

Qayissi said that U.S. forces came to secure the area and posted snipers on nearby roofs who shot and killed four civilians, including a woman looking for her son in the rubble.

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