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Suicide Attack Kills 21 at Gathering Intended to Reconcile Iraqi Factions

Iraqis examine a vehicle destroyed in an overnight raid by U.S. troops in Baghdad's Shiite stronghold of Sadr City. Police said U.S. and Iraqi troops backed by helicopters killed a man and injured his wife during the raid.
Iraqis examine a vehicle destroyed in an overnight raid by U.S. troops in Baghdad's Shiite stronghold of Sadr City. Police said U.S. and Iraqi troops backed by helicopters killed a man and injured his wife during the raid. (By Karim Kadim -- Associated Press)

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By Sudarsan Raghavan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, September 25, 2007

BAGHDAD, Sept. 24 -- A suicide bomber attacked a reconciliation gathering of Shiite and Sunni tribal leaders, provincial officials and security commanders in Baqubah on Monday, killing at least 21 people, including the city's police chief.

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Witnesses said the bomber rushed into a Shiite mosque in the city, the capital of Diyala province, where those gathered had just completed their iftar feast, the meal that breaks their day-long fast during the current holy month of Ramadan.

"We had just finished and were heading to the places to wash our hands, and then a big explosion took place," said Uday al-Nidawi, a leader of the 1920 Revolution Brigades, a Sunni insurgent group that has recently cooperated with U.S. forces. "A suicide bomber rushed inside. The police were running after him and they were shooting at him, but he managed to get really near the area where everybody was sitting."

The bombing apparently was intended to disrupt U.S. efforts to foster reconciliation between tribal groups and turn them against al-Qaeda in Iraq, a predominantly Iraqi insurgent group that the Bush administration and U.S. generals view as their primary foe. While no group had asserted responsibility for the attack by Monday night, it mirrored attacks previously conducted by al-Qaeda in Iraq.

The dead included Brig. Gen. Ali Delyian al-Jorani, the commander of Baqubah police, as well as other senior commanders and sheiks. The governor of the province, Raad Rashid Mulla Jawad, was among dozens injured, security officials said.

Thousands of U.S. troops were funneled into Baqubah, about 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, this summer to tackle insurgents, many of whom fled a security offensive unfolding in the capital. Senior U.S. commanders have described their efforts as a success, but Monday's bombing illustrated the challenges still facing U.S. troops as they attempt to bring stability to Iraq.

In a separate attack Monday in the northern city of Tall Afar, a suicide truck bomb detonated at a joint Iraqi police and military checkpoint at around 2 p.m., killing six and wounding 17, said police Brig. Gen. Ibrahim al-Jubory.

Also on Monday, the U.S. military reported that a U.S. soldier had died of wounds from "enemy fire" in Salahuddin province, in northern Iraq.

Meanwhile, Iran closed major border crossings with Iraq's northern semiautonomous Kurdish region on Monday, apparently to protest the detention of an Iranian official by U.S. military authorities, according to news agency reports. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told the Associated Press in an interview that the intent was to protect pilgrims.

The border closings come four days after U.S. forces took Mahmudi Farhadi into custody in the northern city of Sulaymaniyah. U.S. officials alleged that Farhadi is a member of the elite al-Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, which U.S. commanders say is playing a role in fomenting violence in Iraq against U.S. troops. But Iranian and Iraqi officials insist that Farhadi was here at the invitation of the Iraqi government.

Last week, President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, demanded Farhadi's release in a letter to Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top American military commander in Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker. He warned that Iran had threatened to close its border with Iraq's Kurdish region, an action that would disrupt the Kurdish economy, which thrives on cross-border trading.

Special correspondents Saad al-Izzi and Dalya Hassan in Baghdad, Dlovan Brwari in Mosul and a special correspondent in Diyala contributed to this report.

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