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Suicide bomber attacks police station
BAGHDAD -- A suicide bomber struck a police station Wednesday northeast of Baghdad, killing four officers two days after a double truck-bombing killed nine U.S. soldiers in the volatile area. Explosions, shootings and mortar attacks left at least 41 people dead elsewhere.
The attacker blew himself up at the front gate of the station in Balad Ruz, 50 miles northeast of Baghdad, police said. Sixteen people, including 11 civilians, were wounded.
Balad Ruz is in Diyala province, which has seen some of the worst violence recently as mostly Sunni militants are believed to have fled to the area since U.S. and Iraqi troops launched a security crackdown in Baghdad on Feb. 14. An al-Qaida-linked group claimed responsibility for Monday's double-suicide bombing in which dump trucks blasted a paratrooper outpost in Diyala province, causing the two-story building to collapse, killing nine U.S. troops.
U.S. commanders hope to minimize such bombings in the capital by constructing walls around neighborhoods that have been wracked by sectarian killings.
Last week, the U.S. military announced it was building a 3-mile-long, 12-foot-high concrete wall in Azamiyah, a Sunni stronghold that has been targeted by mortar and rocket attacks by Shiite militiamen.
But the announcement drew sharp criticism from many Azamiyah residents, who denounced the plan as an attempt to isolate Sunnis. In a statement Wednesday, the Sunni Conference for the People of Iraq accused the government of ignoring "the return of the militias and death squads to target Sunni areas" and said building walls was designed to make Sunnis "soft targets for militias."
On Wednesday, radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr joined in the criticism, saying the wall was a "sectarian, racist and unjust" plot by the Americans to divide Iraqis.
Hours later, al-Sadr supporters demonstrated in Baghdad's Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City, chanting "No, no to division." Others carried a banner that read, "the building of the Baghdad wall is the beginning of Baghdad's division."
Al-Sadr's Mahdi militia has been blamed for much of the sectarian bloodshed the United States says the Azamiyah wall is designed to stop.
Nonetheless, an al-Sadr aide, Sheik Salah al-Obaidi, told reporters in the Shiite holy city of Najaf that other demonstrations were planned in Baghdad to condemn the wall. He said that if security permits, al-Sadr's followers would like to join Sunni demonstrators in Azamiyah.
Al-Sadr, apparently seeking to shore up his political support, has been trying to make overtures to the Sunni minority while distinguishing between ordinary Sunnis and extremists who target Shiites.
The U.S. military has said al-Sadr is in neighboring Iran, despite insistence by his aides that he is in hiding in Iraq.
Al-Obaidi said al-Sadr was in hiding "for security reasons" and that "it is not necessary to know where he is."
Also Wednesday, the U.S. military said an American soldier died the day before in a non-combat related incident. No further details were released.