Attacks hit Iraqi markets

At least 50 killed when truck loaded with flour explodes in Tal Afar

March 28, 2007|By Alexandra Zavis | Alexandra Zavis,Los Angeles Times

BAGHDAD -- An explosives-laden truck blew up yesterday at a crowded market in Tal Afar, killing at least 50 people and injuring 103 others, officials said.

The truck had been loaded with flour, and shoppers were invited to help themselves.

"They were all innocent civilians," Mayor Najin Abdullah Jubouri said. "Their only fault is that they are Shiite."

Across the country yesterday, at least 84 Iraqis were found dead in bombings, mortar attacks, sniper fire and execution-style shootings. At least three Americans also were reported killed, including a soldier and a contractor hit by rocket fire while in Baghdad's heavily guarded Green Zone.

The Tal Afar attack, which included a nearly simultaneous blast on another street that caused no casualties, was the latest in a series of gruesome strikes by Sunni Arab insurgents seeking to derail what has been called a last-ditch attempt by U.S. and Iraqi forces to end the civil war between Sunni and Shiite militants. Many of the deadliest attacks have taken place in cities outside Baghdad while U.S. and Iraqi security forces concentrate on lowering violence in the capital.

Tal Afar, about 90 miles east of the Syrian border, is a mainly Turkmen city divided between Shiite and Sunni Muslims. Insurgents took over the city until U.S. and Iraqi troops drove them out in September 2005. A year ago, President Bush cited the city as an example of progress in Iraq, but it has suffered frequent attacks since then.

More than five hours after the early-evening bombings there, rescuers were still pulling bodies from the rubble of flattened homes and shops in the mostly Shiite section of Sheik Juan, said Iraqi army Brig. Gen. Muhammad Ahmed.

"It was a strong explosion. I think this is the most powerful explosion in Tal Afar," he said.

Suryia Qadir, a 44-year-old housewife out shopping for her family's evening meal, survived because the crowd's pushing and shoving prevented her from getting close.

"I remember, there were two men handing out flour," she said. "It was a mess. Everyone wanted to receive their sack before the others. ... I was behind, and I was telling myself: If it was meant to be to have one, then that's fine; if not, so be it. And then the horrible explosion happened."

Hours later, Qadir woke up in a hospital.

"I don't know how many relatives I lost," she said.

It was the second major attack in the northern city in recent days. On Saturday, a suicide bomber with explosives strapped to his waist blew himself up outside a pastry shop, killing at least 10 people.

"I think it is time to stop the insane Sunni extremists," said Hassan Khudur, a 39-year-old Shiite mechanic who was injured in the deadly blast last evening. "Such acts make us hate each other, whether we like it or not."

Sunni Arabs were targeted in yesterday's bloodshed elsewhere, coming at a time of mounting friction within the minority Sunni community that once harbored al-Qaida militants. Some clans in the heavily Sunni Anbar province, put off by indiscriminate attacks in which many Sunnis have died, have formed an alliance against the hard-line Islamist group.

U.S. and Iraqi officials have sought to exploit the rift by wooing Sunni Arab clans and some insurgent groups into a united front against al-Qaida, former U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told reporters before his departure Monday.

A suicide bomber blew up a pickup truck outside a restaurant frequented by Iraqi police in the Anbar city of Ramadi, killing at least 10 people and injuring 25, police said.

Earlier, gunmen armed with AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades attacked the Baghdad home of Sheik Dhahir Zobaie, a prominent Sunni tribal leader who has joined the alliance against al-Qaida, police said. At least three people were killed in the ensuing firefight, they said.

There were conflicting accounts of the attack. The U.S. military said two car bombs exploded outside the house. Police said Zobaie's brother, another relative and a bodyguard were killed when gunmen fired rocket- propelled grenades at their vehicles.

Zobaie's brother, Harith Dhahir Khamees Dhari, was identified as the commander of the 1920s Revolution Brigade, an insurgent faction believed to have held talks with U.S. and Iraqi officials. The organization posted a statement on the Internet blaming al-Qaida for the assassination.

Alexandra Zavis writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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