Bombings Kill 22 in Iraq's North

By Zaid Sabah
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, July 17, 2008

BAGHDAD, July 16 -- A car packed with explosives detonated in a crowded market in the northern city of Tall Afar on Wednesday, killing 20 people, including nine children, and wounding 82 others, police and hospital officials said. Two car bombs also exploded in the northeastern city of Mosul, killing two people and wounding 15.

The attacks underscored Iraq's fragility, even as U.S. forces on Wednesday handed over control of the southern province of Qadisiyah to Iraqi security forces amid growing confidence in the Iraqi government's ability to secure restive areas. It was the 10th of Iraq's 18 provinces to be placed under government control, most of them in Shiite and Kurdish regions.

At a ceremony attended by U.S. and Iraqi officials in Diwaniyah, Qadisiyah's capital, Iraqi national security adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie said the government's goal was to control security in all provinces by the end of the year.

"We have to admit there are security challenges in some areas, and we are going to solve them," Rubaie said in a speech. "We will be happy for the withdrawal of the last foreign soldier from the land of Iraq. Then we would tell them, 'Thank you, because you liberated the country and supported our security forces.' "

Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at the Pentagon on Wednesday that a trip to Iraq last week convinced him that security is improving.

"I won't go so far as to say that progress in Iraq, from a military perspective, has reached a tipping point, or it is irreversible. It has not, and it is not," Mullen said. "But security is unquestionably and remarkably better. Indeed, if these trends continue, I expect to be able early in the fall to recommend to the secretary and to the president further troop reductions."

Wednesday's bombings occurred in Nineveh province, which U.S. and Iraqi officials describe as the last stronghold of the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq. The attacks came a day after twin suicide bombings killed 28 people in Baqubah, in volatile Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad.

The handover of Qadisiyah province was delayed nearly two weeks as Iraqi forces conducted security sweeps targeting militiamen loyal to Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

"Half of the province was under the control of the militias," said Hussein al-Budairi, head of Diwaniyah's security committee. "Today the Iraqi security forces are ready to take control."

Meanwhile, a growing dispute between Sunni Arab tribal leaders and established Sunni politicians could further delay the transfer of security from the U.S. military to Iraqi security forces in the western province of Anbar. Both sides say they fear the handover could tilt the current balance of power against them. The handover of the former Sunni insurgent heartland was postponed twice in June.

Staff writer Josh White in Washington and special correspondents Qais Mizher in Baghdad, Saad Sarhan in Najaf, Uthman al-Mokhtar in Anbar and Dlovan Brwari in Mosul contributed to this report.

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