By Ernesto Londoño and Hassan Shimmary
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, July 22, 2010; A12
BAGHDAD -- A car bomb outside a mosque killed at least 15 people and a U.S. soldier was killed in a roadside bombing in separate attacks Wednesday in northern Iraq, American and Iraqi officials said.
The two incidents in Diyala province underscored the severity of Iraq's security challenges as U.S. forces prepare to nominally end their combat mission next month and Iraqi politicians continue a months-long fight over who will govern the country.
The bombing near the mosque happened about 5:30 p.m. in Abu Saida, a village northeast of the provincial capital, Baqubah, officials said.
The mosque is close to a popular outdoor market and several coffee shops, and the area was crowded at the time of the explosion because worshipers were leaving evening prayers, Mayor Kareem al-Sraiwi said.
Mohammed Najem, who was among the 30 people wounded in the blast, said he visits the area every day after work.
"I say frankly the reason for this is the politicians because they are fighting for seats and we are dying before their eyes," he said. "They don't do anything, just condemn and denounce."
Iraqi politicians have been arguing over who is entitled to form the incoming government since the March elections, an impasse that could drag on for months.
In recent days, the top vote-getter, former prime minister Ayad Allawi, has held meetings with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who leads the second-largest coalition. Allawi also met with Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who earned kingmaker status after the political wing of his movement made a strong showing in the vote.
There were no signs that either meeting led to a breakthrough.
In Washington, the top U.S. commander in Iraq told reporters Wednesday that the political crisis would not affect plans to reduce the number of U.S. troops here by the end of next month.
"I feel very comfortable that we will be at 50,000 probably by the last week of August," Gen. Ray Odierno said during a press briefing at the Pentagon.
Shimmary, a special correspondent, reported from Baqubah.