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Double suicide attack on wedding party kills 35 in Iraq

Friday, May 2, 2008

BAGHDAD -- Two suicide bombers attacked a wedding caravan Thursday as it drove through a crowded market district past bystanders cheering the bride and groom, killing at least 35 people and wounding 65 in a town northeast of Baghdad, officials said.

In the capital, a bomb-rigged parked car exploded when a U.S. patrol went by in a crowded area earlier in the day, leaving a U.S. soldier and at least nine Iraqis dead. The attack also wounded 26 Iraqis and two American soldiers.

The terror attacks came amid heightened worries that al-Qaida in Iraq is regrouping despite recent security gains by U.S.-led forces, which find themselves facing intensified fighting with Shiite extremists, particularly in Baghdad's militia stronghold of Sadr City.

In the suicide assault, a female bomber blew herself up as people were dancing and clapping while members of the passing wedding party played music in Balad Ruz, a predominantly Shiite town 45 miles northeast of Baghdad.

A male bomber attacked minutes later as police and ambulances arrived at the scene, said Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim al-Rubaie, head of the Diyala provincial operations center that oversees Balad Ruz.

The two explosions tore through the stalls and stores that lined the area, and al-Rubaie said at least 35 people were killed and 65 suffered wounds, including the bride and groom.

The U.S. military in northern Iraq only said there were multiple explosions in Balad Ruz and gave a lower casualty figure of 26 dead and 52 wounded.

Diyala has been a flashpoint in the battle against al-Qaida in Iraq, which the U.S. military says has been increasingly using women as suicide bombers. Explosive belts are easier to conceal under female clothing, and women are often not treated with the same suspicion as men.

Lt. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, the No. 2 U.S. commander, said last week that al-Qaida in Iraq was trying to regroup after suffering a devastating blow last year when thousands of Sunni tribesmen turned against the terrorist group blamed for most of Iraq's car bombings and suicide attacks.

The terror network announced April 19 that it was launching a one-month offensive against U.S. troops and U.S.-allied Sunnis.

The parked car bomb that targeted the U.S. combat patrol in Baghdad also exploded in a crowded market district, an insurgent tactic designed to maximize civilian casualties.

Several cars and a U.S. Humvee were badly damaged in the blast that shattered windows of surrounding buildings and left a three-foot crater in the asphalt.

Iraqi police said nine civilians were killed, including three women and one child, and 25 people wounded in the attack. The U.S. military said a soldier died later in the day of wounds from the blast.

The soldier's death raised to at least 4,064 the number of U.S. military personnel who have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

Iraqi civilians chased and captured a militant who was seen detonating the car bomb with a mobile phone and turned him over to Iraqi police, the U.S. military said. Two other accomplices were also detained, it said.

Clashes between U.S.-backed Iraqi troops and Shiite militiamen continued in Baghdad.

The U.S. military said an airstrike in the sprawling Sadr City neighborhood killed 18 militants, including a senior member of what they called Iranian-backed forces.

Health officials said 10 people, including at least two women and a child, were killed and 27 people wounded in the fighting. It could not immediately be determined if any of militants killed were among them.

Six al-Qaida militants also were killed in the northern city of Mosul, the military said.

Iraq's government, meanwhile, sent a delegation of five Shiite politicians to Iran carrying documents and other material they claim indicates Tehran is supplying weapons and training for Shiite militiamen who are fighting U.S. and Iraqi troops.

The U.S. military has recently stepped up similar allegations. Iran denies it is fueling violence in Iraq, saying it trying to promote stability in the neighboring country.

Fighting in Sadr City -- a base for the Mahdi Army militia -- intensified after anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr threatened last week to wage "open war" on U.S.-led troops trying to exert control, with the help of Iraqi forces, over the district, which is home to nearly half of Baghdad's population.

Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, a Shiite, repeated his vow to disarm Shiite militias, saying he was determined to "fight outlaws until they give in to the sovereignty of the state."

He also appealed to clerics and tribal sheiks in Sadr City "to do their duty and not to allow civilians to be turned into human shields and houses, mosques, markets and schools to be turned into places to store weapons."

U.S.-backed Iraqi forces seized a large stockpile of ammunition, including 10 armor-piercing roadside bombs and dozens of rockets, at a mosque in Abu Dshir, a Shiite enclave in a predominantly Sunni area in southern Baghdad, the military said.


Associated Press writer Sameer N. Yacoub contributed to this report.


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