Bomb Kills Provincial Police Chief In N. Iraq

By Amit R. Paley
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, January 25, 2008

BAGHDAD, Jan. 24 -- A provincial police chief was killed by a suicide bomber in the northern city of Mosul on Thursday while inspecting the scene of a massive attack that killed 38 people a day earlier, signs that the city has become a crucial hub for the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Duraid Kashmoula, the governor of Nineveh province, said the number of people killed in Wednesday's attack had increased from 15 to 38 because additional bodies had been recovered and because survivors had died of their wounds. The revised death toll made Wednesday's bombing the deadliest in Iraq since mid-December. Kashmoula said 134 people had been wounded.

Mosul was placed under curfew Thursday as angry mobs accused Iraqi soldiers of causing the Wednesday blast by improperly detonating a weapons cache. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki sent a task force to investigate the incident as lawmakers called on the government to provide aid to the region.

Survivors of the first explosion were digging through the rubble about 10 a.m. Thursday when Brig. Gen. Saleh Mohammed Hassan, the provincial police commander, arrived to survey the 100 or so houses damaged in the blast.

A furious crowd thronged around Hassan and began to throw stones at him and American and Iraqi soldiers on the scene, in the Zenjeeli district of western Mosul, witnesses said. Hassan and other Iraqi police were heading for their cars when a man approached them and detonated his explosive vest, said Brig. Gen. Sayeed Ahmed Abdulla, a spokesman for the Nineveh police.

Hassan died shortly after arriving at a local hospital, according to Abdulla. He said that Hassan's bodyguard was killed and that five police officers, two civilians and an American soldier were injured. One of the civilians was Yasser al-Hamdani, an Iraqi journalist working for Xinhua, the state-run Chinese news agency, Abdulla said.

The back-to-back explosions were the latest setback to efforts to pacify Mosul, the third-largest city in Iraq. U.S. forces have recently launched major operations across northern Iraq to root out al-Qaeda in Iraq, a homegrown Sunni insurgent group that American officials believe is led by Arabs from outside the country.

As the U.S. military has succeeded in driving insurgents out of Baghdad and western Anbar province, many of them have flocked to Nineveh, which American commanders have described as the only province in the country where the number of attacks is rising.

"All the al-Qaeda fighters are escaping here," said Kashmoula, the provincial governor.

On Thursday, Mosul residents and lawmakers accused the Iraqi military of causing the blast that took place a day earlier.

People who live near the three-story building that blew up Wednesday said Iraqi soldiers told them to open their windows minutes before the blast, apparently to prepare for a controlled explosion of weapons found in the building, said Izzuldeen al-Dola, a parliament member from Mosul.

"We call on the government to carry out a full investigation to discover the truth," said Dola, a member of the largest Sunni bloc in parliament.

Iraqi military officials blamed both attacks on al-Qaeda in Iraq and said the first explosion took place when Iraqi soldiers tried to enter a building that may have been a bomb-making factory.

"The security situation is not good in Mosul, we can confess that," said Maj. Gen. Mohammed al-Askari, a spokesman for the Defense Ministry in Baghdad. "But it's impossible that the security forces would carry out an explosion in a building with civilians. If we did this, it would mean that we were incapable and could not take responsibility of our own country."

Also Thursday, a roadside bombing in the southern city of Karbala appeared to target a top aide to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the most revered Shiite cleric in Iraq, local officials said. The aide, Abdel-Mahdi al-Karbalae, was not injured, but two of his guards were killed and four others wounded, the officials said.

Special correspondents Naseer Nouri and Zaid Sabah in Baghdad, Saad Sarhan in Najaf, Washington Post staff in Mosul and staff researcher Robert E. Thomason in Washington contributed to this report.

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