Bombings kill 42 in Iraq


BAGHDAD, IRAQ — A suicide bomber walked into a renowned Baghdad restaurant crowded with people eating breakfast yesterday and blew himself up, killing 35 people and wounding dozens more in the bloodiest attack in the capital in two months.

Al-Qaida in Iraq almost immediately took responsibility for the bombings in a statement that was posted on a militant Web site just hours after the same branch of al-Qaida said it carried out the attacks on three hotels in Amman in which at least 56 people died.

The majority of the victims in Baghdad were police, who had gathered at the popular Al Qadouri restaurant on Abu Nawas Street.

The restaurant is near a cluster of heavily fortified hotels and compounds used by foreign security companies and the news media, including the Palestine Hotel that was targeted in a suicide bombing last month.

"There was bodies ... and blood everywhere inside the place. This is a criminal act that only targeted and hurt innocent people having their breakfast," said Samiya Mohammed, who lives nearby.

There were no Americans in the area at the time, she said. "I do not understand why most of the time it is the Iraqis who are killed," she said.

The blast was the most deadly since a car bomb ripped through a market in a poor Shiite Muslim neighborhood on the eastern outskirts of Baghdad, killing at least 30 people and wounding 38 on Sept. 19.

At least 34 other people were killed elsewhere on one of the most violent days in Iraq in months.

Among them were 27 men found bound and shot near the southern town of Kut, in yet another of the grisly and unexplained killings that are stirring sectarian tensions across the country.

At least 653 bodies have been found since Iraq's interim government was formed April 28, according to an Associated Press count.

The identities of many are never determined, but at least 116 are known to be Sunni Arabs, 43 Shiites and one Kurd. Some are likely victims of crimes, including kidnappings, which are rampant in some cities and as dangerous to Iraqis as political violence.

In a separate suicide bombing, seven former officers in the old Iraqi army were blown up outside an army recruiting center in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit.

They had responded to a recent appeal by the government urging former officers to re-enlist in an attempt to appease the embittered Sunni minority, which once was the backbone of the Iraqi army.

Yesterday's explosion in Baghdad was by no means the biggest to have struck the capital in recent months, but because the bomber detonated his explosives in a packed restaurant, the effect was devastating.

The blast occurred about 9:30 a.m., witnesses said, a time when police and security guards gather there to eat the restaurant's famed eggs and beans.

The blast ripped through the crowded tables, scattering flesh and limbs into the street beyond.

Saddam Khaiber, one of two chefs in the kitchen at the time, said he escaped because he was standing beside a wall, but his fellow chef and most of the restaurant staff were killed.

"Most of the waiters died because they were busy in the restaurant serving the customers," he said.

The owner of the restaurant had reopened earlier this week after a seven-week closure prompted by a warning from police that they had discovered plans to bomb the restaurant during a raid on a militant hideout, he said.

The al-Qaida statement said the restaurant had long been under surveillance to ensure "that all of the customers are servants of the crusaders." The bombing was in retaliation for the U.S. Marine-led offensive in western Iraq, it said.

Al-Qaida in Iraq is headed by the Jordanian-born militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and the bombing demonstrated that the group remains undaunted by the relentless assaults against their strongholds, in western Iraq and elsewhere.

U.S. troops are waging the latest of a series of offensives in the western desert province of Anbar aimed at destroying the al-Qaida cells operating along the porous border with Syria and the Euphrates River valley.

Yesterday, the sixth day of Operation Steel Curtain, U.S. forces backed by Iraqi army units moved into the town of Karabileh, a U.S. military statement said.

The move comes as a prelude to establishing a permanent base in the town and follows reports that some of the militants targeted in the town of Husaybeh in the first days of the operation had escaped to Karabileh.

Liz Sly writes for the Chicago Tribune. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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