Violence in Iraq continues: at least 22 Iraqis killed & 42 wounded & another US soldier killed

Twin Iraq bombs target US-allied Sunnis
The Age, Feb. 12, 2008

Twin car bombs targeted a meeting of Sunni tribal leaders in Baghdad, killing as many as 22 people, Iraqi officials said, the latest in a series of attacks against US allies who have turned against al-Qaeda in Iraq.

The attackers managed to penetrate heavy security to place the explosives-laden cars, which exploded near the heavily fortified offices of one of Iraq's most powerful Shi'ite politicians, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC).

It was one of the biggest bombings in Baghdad this year and came amid warnings by the US military that al-Qaeda in Iraq remains a serious threat despite stepped up security measures and the Sunni revolt that has been credited with weakening its operations.

Despite the proximity to al-Hakim's compound, the chief military spokesman for Baghdad said the apparent target was a nearby building in which Sunni chieftains from Anbar province who have joined forces with the Americans were meeting.

Sheik Ali Hatem al-Sulaiman, deputy chief of Anbar province's biggest Sunni tribe and a leading member of the so-called Anbar Awakening Council, said six of their bodyguards were among those killed and 20 were wounded.

He blamed al-Qaeda in Iraq, which has increasingly targeted Sunnis who have turned against it.

The Anbar sheiks often meet in Baghdad and have been lobbying the national parliament in recent days over stalled draft legislation that would set a date for provincial elections.

A simmering provincial power struggle also has threatened to raise new tensions among the fractured Sunni tribal chiefs and politicians of the former insurgent stronghold west of Baghdad.

"Al-Qaeda and those who assist al-Qaeda are targeting our offices. We ask the government not to diminish our role," he told AP, insisting on a tribal right to revenge.

"It has become a reprisal issue now and we don't want the government or the US forces to interfere," he said. "It is an open war against those criminals, and we will fight in our own way."

A dense cloud of black smoke filled the air as firefighters hosed down dozens of charred vehicles, with flames shooting out of the back of one pickup truck.

The Iraqi military spokesman said an explosives-laden minibus and a sedan blew up nearly simultaneously - the first near a gas station and the second within minutes near the tribal chiefs meeting.

Iraqi police and hospital officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said at least 22 people were killed and 42 wounded.

Al-Moussawi's office put the casualty toll at 14 killed and 45 wounded.

The attacks have raised concerns about cracks in the Sunni movement that the US military says has played a major role in stemming the violence.

Signalling other discontent, more than 3,000 people rallied in Baqouba, north-east of Baghdad, the latest in a series of demonstrations by US-allied Sunni tribesmen in the city calling for the provincial police chief's resignation and accusing him of sectarian bias.

The fighters - who patrol their neighbourhoods on temporary security contracts paid by the US - have grown frustrated with the province's Shi'ite-dominated government in recent months, and have threatened to halt co-operation.

The US military, meanwhile, pressed forward with its campaign against Shi'ite extremists it says have broken with radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and refused to follow six-month ceasefire order, which expires later this month.

American soldiers captured a suspected Shi'ite militia commander and one other suspect in the latest of several days of raids in Shi'ite holy cities south of the capital.

The suspect was allegedly involved in co-ordinating weapons shipments and planning attacks on US and Iraqi forces in the Iraqi provinces of Wasit, Babil and Najaf, the military said, without characterising the second suspect.

Sadrist lawmaker Ahmed al-Masaoudi, however, insisted the two men arrested in Hillah, about 95 km south of Baghdad, were one of his guards and his brother, and he demanded their immediate release.

The US television network CBS also reported two of its journalists had gone missing in the predominantly Shi'ite southern city of Basra.

CBS did not name the journalists but said all efforts were under way to find them and requested "that others do not speculate on the identities of those involved".

Also, the US military announced the death of an American soldier, killed in a roadside bombing a day earlier. At least 3,960 American troops have died in Iraq since the war started in March 2003, according to an AP count

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