Shiite mosque bombing kills 78 as huge US force attacks al- Qaida
IRAQ: A truck bomber attacked a revered Shiite shrine in the heart of
Baghdad, killing at least 78 people and wounding more than 200 in a
resumption of Iraqâ€™s relentless sectarian slaughter. The mosqueâ€™s
turquoise dome survived, but the blast buried some worshippers and badly
Northeast of the capital, a force of 10,000 U.S. soldiers firing
artillery and using heavily armoured Stryker and Bradley Fighting
Vehicles fought their way through western Baqouba and other al-Qaida
sanctuaries in Diyala province. U.S. helicopters and jet fighters flew
In all, 142 people were killed or found dead in sectarian violence
Tuesday, a toll reflecting carnage associated with the months before the
U.S. security crackdown in the capital began Feb. 14.
The Pentagon is required to issue an initial assessment of the
operation next month, and Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in
Iraq, will report in September. The Democratic-controlled Congress set
those reporting deadlines to pressure the White House and American
military leadership to make quick progress in curbing violence here so
U.S. troops - now 155,000 - can be pulled away from the increasingly
American commanders have said there will be positive results by
September but that any return to normalcy requires years. President Bush
has even spoken of the U.S. mission in Iraq in terms of the 50-plus-year
American troop presence in South Korea.
Tuesdayâ€™s bombing was a setback. It was the deadliest single attack
in Iraq since April 18, when at least 127 civilians were killed when a
bomb detonated in a parked car at a mostly Shiite market in central
Police said a truck piled high with electric fans and air
conditioners delivered the huge bomb at the Khulani mosque. The powerful
explosion in the busy commercial district cut deep into Iraqâ€™s Shiite
community on just the second day after authorities lifted a four-day
curfew in the capital.
The vehicle ban had been imposed to prevent revenge attacks after a
bombing last week brought down twin golden minarets at the important
Shiite al-Askariya shrine in Samarra, north of the capital. A bombing
that destroyed the golden dome there on Feb. 26, 2006 set in motion the
sectarian bloodletting that has sundered the sectarian fault line in
Tuesdayâ€™s bombing was presumed to have been carried out by a Sunni
attacker because the target was a Shiite mosque. The Khulani mosqueâ€™s
imam, Sheik Saleh al-Haidari, said bombing was particularly deadly
because worshippers were just leaving a prayer service.
â€śThis attack was planned and carried out by sick souls,â€ť al-Haidari
told The Associated Press by telephone. He said his office and the room
above collapsed but that he was not in the mosque at the time of the
Karim Abdullah, the 35-year-old owner of a nearby clothing store,
said he was on his way to pray at the mosque when the explosion caused
his motorcycle to wobble under him.
â€śI stopped in shock as I saw the smoke and people on the ground. I
saw two or three men in flames as they were getting out of their car,â€ť
AP reporters said gunfire rattled through the district after police
said the truck exploded in a parking lot near the mosque.
A courtyard wall collapsed, and a building just inside the mosque
compound was turned to rubble. The mosque sanctuary was slightly
The Khulani mosque is named after a much-revered Shiite figure who,
according to the sectâ€™s tradition, was one of four â€śearthlyâ€ť deputies
anointed by the Imam Mohammed al-Mahdi, who disappeared in the 9th
century. Shiites believe the so-called â€śHidden Imamâ€ť will return to
Earth to restore justice to humanity.
Police and officials at al-Kindi, Iman Ali, al-Sadr and Medical City
hospitals said at least 78 people were killed and 218 were wounded,
adding that the toll could rise as bodies were pulled from the debris.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared
retribution. The U.S. military said the bombing was a suicide attack and
that its unit in the area recorded 35 killed and 65 wounded at al-Kindi
hospital. The military did not check other facilities for dead or
Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl, a military spokesman in Baghdad, said the
truck was loaded with propane tanks and that a suicide driver detonated
his bomb when the vehicle became stuck trying to drive over a curb. It
was impossible to reconcile the difference in the police and military
accounts about the truckâ€™s cargo, or whether the bombing involved a
parked truck or a suicide driver.
The U.S. military operation in Diyala province, an al-Qaida bastion,
matched in size the force that American generals sent against the
insurgent-held city of Fallujah 2 1/2 years ago.
The operation began Monday, and by late Tuesday the military had
reported only one American death, a Task Force Lightning soldier killed
by an explosion near his vehicle. Two soldiers were wounded.
A second soldier from the 3rd Infantry Division died in a roadside
bombing south of Baghdad on Monday, the military said in a second
statement. Three were wounded in that attack. Earlier Tuesday, the
military said a soldier was killed by small arms fire during combat in
eastern Baghdad on Monday.
The deaths brought to at least 3,530 the number of U.S. military
personnel who have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March
2003, according to an AP count.
Additionally, Iraqi forces - about 5,000 Iraqi soldiers and 2,000
paramilitary police - joined the battle in Diyala province, according to
Mohammed al-Askari, the defense ministry spokesman.
The U.S. commander in the region, Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, said a
combined U.S.-Iraqi force of about 3,500 soldiers and police were
operating in Baqouba proper, a city of about 300,000.
Baghdad, Wednesday, AP