Bomb kills 7 Iraq police recruits

Details emerge about high-level al-Qaida lieutenant killed Sunday


BAGHDAD -- A man wearing a belt of explosives under his clothing walked into a crowd of recruits gathered outside a police compound northeast of Baghdad yesterday and detonated the bomb, killing seven and injuring 23 in a spray of burning metal, police officials said.

Insurgent attacks continued across Iraq, as U.S. and Iraqi officials offered details about the killing Sunday of Abu Azzam, described as the top lieutenant of Abu Musab al Zarqawi, an al-Qaida leader.

The suicide attack on the police recruits took place in Baquba, a city 30 miles northeast of the capital where Iraqi police and soldiers have been under siege by insurgents for months.

It came as Iraqi officials announced that they had found evidence of another mass killing: 22 bodies with bullets in their heads and their hands bound. The bodies were found 100 miles southeast of Baghdad near the Iranian border, the officials said.

The bodies were in civilian clothing, and it was not clear why or when they had been killed. But they were found along a border road increasingly used by Shiites traveling to or from their homes in southern Iraq in an effort to avoid a lawless area directly south of Baghdad. Until now, the alternative eastern route had been viewed as safer.

Other attacks across Iraq left at least 11 people dead yesterday, including a United States Marine, Iraqi police officers and two detainees on their way to Abu Ghraib prison.

Detailing the killing of Azzam, described as the militant group's Baghdad commander, military officials said yesterday that he was "responsible for the recent upsurge in violent attacks in the city since April 2005." He planned bombings that killed hundreds of Iraqis, said Laith Kubba, a spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al Jaafari.

A joint Iraqi and American team tracked Azzam to an apartment in southeastern Baghdad through intelligence sources and corroborating information from a close associate of Azzam's, the officials said. The plan was to take Azzam alive, the officials said, but he fired back and was killed in the ensuing gunbattle.

Azzam, whose real name is Abdullah Najim Abdullah Muhammad al-Juwari, was the militant group's leader in western Anbar province through much of last year, the officials said, and he led the largest group of fighters in Falluja last autumn until the U.S. invasion of that city. He assumed his position as Baghdad commander this past spring.

But in Washington yesterday, an American official questioned the Pentagon's characterization of Abu Azzam as the No. 2 official in Zarqawi's organization, saying Zarqawi has a number of top lieutenants and it would be an exaggeration to describe Azzam as his top deputy.

The official requested anonymity so as not to openly challenge the Pentagon's public statements.

Also yesterday, the renegade Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr issued an unusual public request for guidance on how to deal with Zarqawi, who declared a "full-scale war" on all of Iraq's Shiites two weeks ago.

Days after his declaration of war, Zarqawi issued a qualifier, exempting certain groups including followers of al-Sadr, who has sometimes allied with Sunni fighters in his resistance to the American presence here.

Seemingly embarrassed by that exemption, al-Sadr publicly sought guidance on how to fight Zarqawi's attacks from Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's most revered Shiite cleric.

The ayatollah responded in an unusually lengthy statement, in which he repeated his previous counsel to Iraqis to "continue in their self-restraint, along with more caution and alertness."

Scattered attacks continued across Iraq yesterday. In Baghdad, gunmen fired on a minibus bound for Abu Ghraib prison, killing four police officers and two detainees. Eight detainees were wounded in the attack.

Also in the capital, gunmen fired on a police patrol, killing one officer and wounding three. In the center of the city, a suicide bomber detonated his vehicle at noon near a restaurant. Six people were hurt, witnesses said.

Near the northern city of Kirkuk, gunmen killed an Iraqi police officer and a soldier in separate attacks, Interior Ministry officials said. Another police officer was killed in Kirkuk when a roadside bomb detonated.

West of the capital, a U.S. Marine was killed by a homemade bomb while conducting combat operations, military officials said.

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