Suicide bomber kills Iraqi army recruits

At least 10 dead, 21 hurt

Hussein answers queries about '91 Shiite uprising


BAGHDAD, Iraq - A suicide bomber wearing a vest laden with explosives blew himself up outside an army recruitment center in a remote northern village on the Syrian border yesterday, an official with the Iraqi Interior Ministry said. The official said the attack killed 26 people and wounded at least 30, though U.S. military officials put the casualty figures far lower, with 10 dead and 21 wounded.

Hundreds of young men had flocked from the countryside around the village, called Rabiya, to sign up as army recruits at the center, and a witness said they were lined up as many as 10 abreast when the bomb went off. Smoke and fire belched from the locus of the blast, and survivors ran from the scene, letting their recruitment papers flutter to the ground, said Faris Hatam, 23, who lives nearby.

Al-Qaida in Iraq immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but the authenticity of the statement could not be verified.

Rabiya has been a trouble spot for U.S. forces because it continues to be a major entry point from Syria for the foreign fighters who U.S. military officials say make up a large number of the suicide bombers in the country. But it was unclear whether this bomber was an Iraqi or a foreigner.

Rabiya is a small agricultural town surrounded by rough flatlands and desert, about 75 miles west of Mosul. It has a population of a few thousand people, mostly Sunni Arabs. In late May, a car bomb exploded at the Rabiya border crossing, shutting the crossing for a week.

For months, the U.S. military had largely ignored the region surrounding Rabiya. But this spring military leaders decided that the influx of foreign insurgents was too high and reassigned almost the entire 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment there from a deployment south of Baghdad.

The U.S. military also reported that on Thursday one Army soldier died in a vehicle accident in Baghdad, and two Marines died when insurgents attacked their patrol in a town called Cykla, 120 miles west of the city. The military had previously said that a patrol had been attacked by insurgents in Cykla from three buildings, which had been destroyed with precision bombs in an airstrike.

The two Marines who died in combat were killed when insurgents attacked their unit with gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades, the military said. Two roadside bombs also exploded near the northern city of Kirkuk, but no fatalities were reported by local police.

The Iraqi Special Tribunal questioned the country's former ruler, Saddam Hussein, yesterday about his regime's brutal quashing of an uprising by southern Shiites in 1991, the Associated Press reported. He answered questions on his own for about 45 minutes, the AP said, quoting Raid Juhi, the chief investigative judge of the Iraqi Special Tribunal.

The tribunal was set up to try Hussein and other members of his regime for atrocities. But it has been convulsed in recent days over an attempt by a commission run by Ahmad Chalabi, a deputy prime minister, to remove Juhi over alleged connections to Hussein's Baath party.

Hussein is expected to go to trial as early as September for his role in the killing of 150 men in Dujail, a town north of Baghdad, after an attempt on his life there in 1982. But he is also expected to face charges for his role in the suppression of the Shiites and for the killing of tens of thousands of Kurds in the 1980s and 1990s.

Yesterday, conflicting accounts emerged on the writing of Iraq's permanent constitution, which the Bush administration is pressing Iraqi politicians to complete as scheduled by Aug. 15. Bahaa al-Araji, a prominent Shiite member of the committee that is charged with writing the constitution, said yesterday that the document was close to being finished. He said the issue of federalism would be taken up today.

But a Sunni Arab member of the committee, Saleh al-Mutlak, said that no agreement was imminent and suggested that the writing of the constitution should be put off until a new national assembly is elected.

Federalism has been among the most contentious issues facing the writers of the constitution. The Kurds in the north, who have enjoyed de facto autonomy since the 1991 war, and many Shiites in the south favor a devolution of power to the outlying regions of Iraq. But the Sunni Arabs, who held power in Baghdad during Hussein's rule, have favored a centralized state with control over Iraq's oil reserves, which lie mostly in the Kurdish and Shiite sectors.

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