By Dean Yates, July 7, 2007
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A spate of car bombs and mortar attacks killed 70 people in Iraq, police and local officials said on Saturday, while the U.S. military reported eight of its soldiers killed in the past two days.
On the diplomatic front, Iranian officials made the first consular visit on Saturday to five Iranians who were detained by U.S. forces in northern Iraq in January, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said.
"This is the first such visit since they were detained. This is a positive development," Zebari told Reuters, adding that it would hopefully lead to more U.S.-Iranian talks.
The fresh violence follows a lull in Iraq, where tens of thousands of U.S. and Iraqi troops are on the offensive against insurgents in a bid to halt a slide into sectarian civil war.
Rising U.S. casualties have put U.S. President George W. Bush under mounting pressure from opposition Democrats and from some senior figures in his own Republican Party to justify his strategy of ordering 28,000 more troops to Iraq.
There are now 157,000 U.S. military personnel in Iraq.
A truck bomb ripped through an outdoor market in the northern town of Tuz Khurmato on Saturday while many people were shopping, killing 30 people and wounding 90, police said.
The bomb leveled shops and small houses, and police said they feared the death toll could rise.
Jasim Ali, 30, said he looked frantically for his wife when he heard the explosion.
"I ran to the market and saw burned cars along with dead and wounded people everywhere. I screamed until I found my wife. She was wounded in the head and her hand," said Ali, his clothes stained with his wife's blood.
A suicide car bomber killed six people including five Iraqi soldiers on Saturday when he drove into a military checkpoint in east Baghdad, an army spokesman said. The attack also wounded 24 people, including 18 soldiers.
On Friday evening, a suicide car bomber killed 22 people and wounded 17 others when he drove his vehicle into a group of Shi'ite Kurds near Iraq's border with Iran. The victims were returning from a funeral, a local official said.
MORTAR KILLS FAMILY
The U.S. military said roadside bombs killed six soldiers in and around Baghdad, five on Friday and one on Thursday. It said two Marines were killed in combat in Anbar province on Thursday.
The April-June period was the deadliest three months for U.S. troops since the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion. So far this month, 22 soldiers have been killed, half of them in Baghdad.
One British soldier was killed in the southern city of Basra in fierce fighting with militants overnight, during raids involving 1,000 troops that a military spokesman described as the biggest British operation in Iraq this year.
Also overnight, a mortar bomb killed seven members of one family as they slept on their roof in the Sunni neighborhood of Fadhil in central Baghdad, police said. They included a couple and their four children, aged nine to 17.
Electricity blackouts have stopped air conditioners from working, so many Iraqis find it cooler to sleep on roofs.
The U.S. military says the five detained Iranians are linked to Iran's Revolutionary Guards and were backing militants in Iraq. Iran has insisted they are diplomats, demanded they be freed and sought access to the men.
Zebari said three Iranian diplomats including the ambassador to Baghdad visited the men for several hours.
Iraq has been pressing both countries to hold a second round of talks in Baghdad to follow up a landmark meeting in May where senior envoys from the two sides discussed the violence in Iraq.
U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and his Iranian counterpart in Baghdad Hassan Kazemi-Qomi met in the Iraqi capital on May 28 to discuss security in Iraq in what was the most high-profile meeting of the two arch enemies in almost three decades.
Washington accuses Iran of fomenting violence in Iraq, a charge Tehran denies.
(Additional reporting by Mariam Karouny, Alister Bull, Mussab Al-Khairalla and Waleed Ibrahim)