By Ernesto Londoño and Dan Eggen
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
BAGHDAD, July 15 -- At least 28 Iraqi army recruits were killed Tuesday morning in two suicide bombings north of Baghdad in Diyala province, where the government has said it plans to launch an offensive against insurgent groups.
Meanwhile, in Mosul, a city in northern Iraq, at least five people were killed and 11 wounded Tuesday in a series of bombings, Iraqi officials said.
The twin bombings in Diyala occurred shortly after 8 a.m. at Camp Saad, a recruitment center east of Baqubah, the provincial capital, officials said. The first bomber detonated explosives among a group of recruits and the second targeted those who fled the site of the initial explosion, according to Maj. Gen. Abdul Karim al-Rubaie, the commander of the Diyala military operations center. At least 57 people were wounded in the blasts, he said.
Ali Hikmat al-Dulaimi, a recruit at Camp Saad, said he ran from the site of the first attack.
"When I fled the place running, another suicide bomber blew himself up among the recruits who were not wounded in the first explosion," he said in a telephone interview from a hospital where he was being treated for injuries to his face and legs. "This time, I got injured."
The U.S. military provided a lower death toll in the Diyala bombings, saying its preliminary reports indicated that 22 people were killed.
Iraqi officials have said they intend to send more troops to Diyala in coming days to launch an operation. Sunni insurgent groups, primarily al-Qaeda in Iraq, have in recent weeks targeted Iraqi security forces in several attacks there.
The Diyala offensive is being planned as U.S. leaders are trying to reach an agreement regarding the rules under which U.S. troops will be able to operate in Iraq once the U.N. mandate that authorizes their presence expires in December.
President Bush said in Washington on Tuesday that Iraq and the United States are discussing whether to set an "aspirational goal" for moving U.S. troops into a purely supportive role in Iraq, a step that could lead to a major reduction in combat troops there.
"They want to have an aspirational goal as to how quickly the transition to what we have called 'overwatch' takes place," Bush said, referring to Iraqi leaders. " 'Overwatch' will mean that the U.S. will be in a training mission, logistical support as well as special ops."
Bush reiterated his opposition to any "artificial timetable" for troop withdrawal, saying that the administration would be "listening to our commanders and our diplomats, and listening to the Iraqis, for that matter."
Bush has repeatedly railed against Democratic calls for troop-withdrawal timetables, arguing that such demands are arbitrary and ignore security conditions on the ground. The comments follow statements last week from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other Iraqi leaders suggesting that any long-term security agreement with the United States must include a timeframe for U.S. withdrawal.
"The Iraqis have invited us to be there," Bush said. "But they share a goal with us, which is to get our combat troops out, as conditions permit."
Meanwhile, in Baghdad, several Kurdish lawmakers walked out of a session in parliament Tuesday morning during which they were scheduled to vote on a bill that would set guidelines for provincial elections scheduled to take place in the fall.
Kurdish lawmakers accused the speaker of the house, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, a Sunni Arab, of inserting an article in the bill stipulating that seats on the Tamim provincial council be split evenly among members of the Kurdish, Arab and Turkmen ethnic groups.
The capital of Tamim is the northern oil-rich city of Kirkuk. Sunni Arabs and Kurds have fought for power in the region for years, and control of the province is one of the most contentious issues in the upcoming election.
Lawmakers said Tuesday morning that they do not know whether they will be able to reach an agreement on the bill by the end of the week. Iraqi politicians say that passing the legislation is urgent because the elections are scheduled to take place in November.
Another point of contention in the bill is a provision that seeks to eliminate the quota system that ensures that at least 25 percent of seats on provincial councils go to women.
Eggen reported from Washington. Special correspondents Saad al-Izzi, Dalya Hassan and Zaid Sabah contributed to this report.