60 die as car bombs rip through crowded areas in Iraq

BAGHDAD – Car bombs and a suicide attacker struck crowded areas in Baghdad and former insurgent strongholds to the north and west of the capital, killing nearly 60 people and breaking a recent lull in violence in the predominantly Sunni areas.

The U.S. military condemned the bombings and said they appeared to have been carried out by al-Qaida in Iraq.

The first blast occurred in Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, when a car parked in front of a restaurant exploded just before noon across the street from the central courthouse and other government offices.

At least 40 people were killed and 70 wounded in the blast, according to hospital officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to release the information.

AP Television News footage showed many of the bodies covered in crisp white sheets in the main hospital’s courtyard while the emergency room inside was overwhelmed with the wounded.

It was the deadliest bombing in Iraq since March 6 when a twin bombing killed 68 people in a crowded shopping district in the central Baghdad district of Karradah.

The Awakening Council: Iraq’s Anti-al-Qaeda Sunni Militias

A suicide attacker on a motorcycle later drove up to a kebab restaurant in Ramadi and detonated his explosives vest, killing at least 13 people including three policemen and wounding 20 other people, police Capt. Abu Saif al-Anbari said. Hospital officials said two children were among the dead.

Police initially thought a parked car had exploded in the industrial area but later determined it was a suicide attack, al-Anbari said.

Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, is the capital of Anbar province and has largely been sealed off by checkpoints.

Like Baqouba, the area has seen a sharp decline in violence in recent months as Sunni tribal leaders have joined forces with the Americans against al-Qaida in Iraq.

Elsewhere in northern Iraq, a double car bombing in Mosul wounded three Iraqi policemen and 15 civilians, the U.S. military said. Mosul is considered one of the last urban strongholds for al-Qaida in Iraq and the American and Iraqi militaries have promised a security crackdown.

The relative calm in predominantly Sunni areas has coincided with clashes between Shiite militia fighters and U.S.-Iraqi forces in Baghdad and the oil-rich southern city of Basra.

But while the Bush administration has begun citing what it calls Iranian-backed Shiite factions as the greatest threat to Iraq’s stability, American commanders have consistently warned that al-Qaida-led insurgents continue to pose a serious danger.

Is the US really bringing stability to Baghdad?

DAMASCUS (The Independent) – To judge from the talk in Washington, the ‘surge’ that put 30,000 more US troops on the ground in Iraq has succeeded in bringing stability to a nation still riven by ethnic, religious and tribal conflict. Life, the Pentagon boasts, is returning to normal. But the truth is a very different story.

The dramatic change of sides of Sunni guerrilla organisations such as the “1920 Revolution Brigades” and the “Islamic Army” came about for many reasons. In Anbar province west of Baghdad (perhaps one-third of Iraq by area), the Sunni tribes had become enraged by al-Qa’ida’s attempt to establish total dominance, and to replace or murder traditional leaders and set up a Taliban-type state. But the Sunni community could also see that, although its guerrilla war was effective against the US, it was being defeated by the Shia who controlled the Iraqi government and armed forces after the elections of 2005.

The only source of money in Iraq is oil revenues, and the only jobs – four million, if those on a pension are included – are with the government. The Shia, in alliance with the Kurds, controlled both. “The Sunni people found that the only way to be protected from the Shia was to be allied to the Americans,” said Kassim Ahmed Salman, a well-educated Sunni from west Baghdad. “Otherwise we were in a hopeless situation. For the last two years it has been possible for Sunni to be killed legally [by death squads covertly supported by the government] in Baghdad.”

The “surge” – the 30,000 extra US troops implementing a new security plan in Baghdad – has helped to make Baghdad safer. In effect, they have frozen into place the Shia victory of 2006. The city is broken up into enclaves sealed off by concrete walls with only one entrance and exit.

"But I will not let myself be reduced to silence."

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