By Sameer N. Yacoub
Sunday, August 30, 2009
BAGHDAD, Aug. 29 -- Bombers struck a cafe in Baghdad and remote communities in northern Iraq on Saturday, killing at least 18 people, as the visiting Iranian foreign minister warned that Iraq's instability affected the whole region.
The blasts came a little more than a week after suicide truck bombers devastated the Foreign and Finance ministries in Baghdad, killing about 100 people and dealing a blow to confidence in the Iraqi government's ability to protect residents as U.S. forces scale back their presence.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki called on neighboring countries to play a positive role in helping to stabilize Iraq. His comments took on added significance during a diplomatic dispute between Iraq and Syria over demands that Damascus extradite suspected Saddam Hussein loyalists blamed for the ministry bombings in Baghdad.
"The lack of stability and security in Iraq will definitely affect the region," Mottaki said at a news conference with his Iraqi counterpart, Hoshyar Zebari. "All of Iraq's neighbors should work seriously and help Iraq in providing security and stability." The Iraqi government has blamed an alliance of the group al-Qaeda in Iraq and Hussein loyalists it says are based in Syria for the Aug. 19 bombings, and it wants Damascus to hand over two suspected plotters, raising tensions between the two countries.
Iraqi forces have stepped up security in Baghdad and other cities since the truck bombings.
But attackers were still able to detonate an explosives-laden motorcycle near a cafe in an eastern section of the capital at 8 p.m. Saturday, killing at least two civilians and wounding 12, according to police and hospital officials.
Saturday's deadliest attack was a suicide truck bombing targeting a small police station in the Sunni village of Hamad north of Baghdad. It killed at least 12 people, including six policemen, and wounded 15, according to Iraqi officials.
Such remote villages often depend on a small security force for protection. Bombers have been exploiting that vulnerability in the villages surrounding Mosul, in particular.
They have mainly targeted ethnic minorities.
In Hamad, police attempted to stop the truck, opening fire and forcing the attacker to change direction and slam into a concrete barrier near a market, the officials said.
The police chief of the nearby town of Shirqat, Col. Ali al-Jubouri, said that police had defused a car bomb in the same area days earlier and that he thought Saturday's attack was in retaliation.
A second bombing in northern Iraq targeted a market in the city of Sinjar near the Syrian border. An explosives-laden truck blew up, killing at least four people and wounding 23, police said.
Sinjar, which is near the volatile city of Mosul, has been hit several times by bombings, most recently on Aug. 13 when double suicide bombings killed 21 people in a cafe.
The Iranian foreign minister also met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and President Jalal Talabani before traveling south to the holy city of Najaf for the burial of one of Iraq's most powerful Shiite leaders, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim. Hakim died Wednesday of lung cancer in Tehran.
Hakim led the Iranian-backed Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, Iraq's largest Shiite party, and was widely revered for assisting with the re-emergence of Shiite power after decades of oppression under Hussein's Sunni-led regime.
Thousands of mourners followed Hakim's coffin in a procession when it arrived in Najaf after a three-day tour through Iran, Baghdad and Karbala.
He was buried in a shrine next to his brother, Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir Hakim, who led the party until he was killed in a car bombing in Najaf soon after the brothers returned to Iraq in 2003 after years in exile.
In his will, Hakim called for peaceful coexistence among Iraq's fractured sects.
Also Saturday, the lawyer for an Iraqi journalist imprisoned for hurling his shoes at then-President George W. Bush said his client would be released next month after his sentence was reduced for good behavior.
Muntadar al-Zaidi's act of protest during Bush's last visit to Iraq as president turned the 30-year-old reporter into a folk hero across the Arab world and became a rallying point for critics of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and occupation.