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Suicide Bomb Kills 25 in Northern Iraq

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By KIM GAMEL
The Associated Press
Monday, August 6, 2007; 2:08 AM

BAGHDAD -- A suicide bomber slammed his truck into a densely populated residential area in the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar on Monday, killing at least 25 people, police said. At least 22 others were wounded and an official said the death toll was expected to rise.

The attack occurred in a crowded Shiite neighborhood of the mixed city, which lies about 260 miles northwest of Baghdad. The attacker drove a dump truck filled with explosives and covered with a thin layer of construction materials, said Brig. Gen. Rahim al-Jibouri, commander of Tal Afar police.

The bombing came a day after a top U.S commander said rogue Shiite militiamen with Iranian weapons and training launched three-quarters of the attacks that killed or wounded American forces last month in Baghdad, stepping into the void left as Sunni insurgents have been dislodged.

Attacks against U.S. forces were down sharply last month nationwide, and military officials have expressed cautious optimism that a security crackdown is working. At the same time, the number of attacks launched by breakaway factions of the Shiite Mahdi Army militia has increased, said Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the U.S. second-in-command.

He did not provide a total number of militia attacks. But he said 73 percent of the attacks that wounded or killed U.S. troops last month in Baghdad were launched by Shiite militiamen, nearly double the figure six months earlier.

Odierno said Iran has sharply increased its support for the fighters ahead of a September report to Congress on progress in Iraq, leading to the surge in rogue militia action.

Tehran has denied U.S. allegations that it is fueling the violence in Iraq and the military claims come as the Americans and the Iranians have agreed to set up a committee to deal with Iraqi security issues.

Odierno's comments hinted at the difficulty Iraqi and U.S. security forces face in keeping the peace once U.S. troops have successfully ousted mostly Sunni al-Qaida-linked fighters from any particular spot.

"We knew this was coming, but there's been a shift," Odierno told The Associated Press in an interview after touring a mainly Shiite area of southeastern Baghdad. "Because of the effect we've had on al-Qaida in Iraq and the success against them and the Sunni insurgency, it's now shifted."

Thousands of American and Iraqi troops have flooded the streets of the capital as part of a nearly six-month-old security crackdown, mostly focused against fighters linked to al-Qaida in Iraq.

Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr agreed to pull his Mahdi Army fighters off the streets as the U.S.-Iraqi security crackdown began on Feb. 12 in Baghdad and surrounding regions.

But disaffected members of the Mahdi Army broke away from al-Sadr control. Dissident members of the militia told the AP that they went to Iran for training and armaments and returned to Iraq to join the fight against U.S. and Iraqi troops.


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© 2007 The Associated Press

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