Bomber kills 50, wounds dozens at Iraq funeral

Sunni Arabs aligned with al-Qaida insurgents strike villagers allied with U.S.

April 18, 2008|By Ned Parker and Saif Hameed | Ned Parker and Saif Hameed,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD -- A suicide bomber walked into a funeral for two cousins who had died fighting insurgents and blew himself up yesterday, killing at least 50 people, officials said. It was the most recent strike in an internal war among Sunni Arabs, some of whom have aligned themselves with the United States and others with al-Qaida in Iraq.

"The gangsters threatened us not to make the funeral," Khalaf Farhan, wounded in the blast, recalled from his hospital bed. "They said if we hold the funeral they will kill more of us, from our tribe."

The residents of Albu Mohammed village, about 90 miles north of Baghdad in Diyala province, decided to defy them and bury the two men. The cousins had been kidnapped Tuesday. Their mutilated bodies were found the next day, their hands and legs bound, with knife wounds in the stomach and bullets in the eyes and head.

Villagers of the Azzawi tribe had only recently formed a paramilitary unit to defend the community. Albu Mohammed is situated near the Hamreen mountains, a stronghold of Sunni radicals.

More than 100 mourners had buried the cousins and were sitting in the funeral tent when a man entered and triggered the bomb, Farhan said. At least 40 people were wounded in the attack, police said.

"Shrapnel hit my chest and my head. I saw legs and arms scattered on the ground and heads separated from bodies," Farhan said.

Jabbar Abed Rahman had been preparing food when the explosion ripped the area. The village had recently turned on those in their district backing al-Qaida in Iraq, setting off a gangland-style war.

"We had elements from al-Qaida in our village. When we tried to stop their extremist activities ... they told us, `You either work with us against the government or you will be killed,'" he recalled.

He vowed that his tribe would take revenge. "We will now dig the graves of more than 40 of our men," he said. "We will get our revenge from the remnants of al-Qaida who are hiding in the Hamreen mountains."

The identity and nationality of the attacker were not immediately clear.

Albu Mohammed's tribal leader, Sheik Mahmood Azzawi, said the village had formed its Sunni paramilitary group a month ago with the aim of confronting the militants who robbed and killed travelers on the road between Baghdad and the northern city of Kirkuk. Villagers said some of the men hailed from the Adhaim area and included fellow members of the Azzawi tribe as well as the Jabouri and Obeidi clans. Azzawi complained that the government was not supporting them in their fight even as they suffered huge losses.

The killings were the latest assault on Sunni Arabs, who have forged an alliance with the U.S. military in battling militant groups. Some attacks against Sunni paramilitary groups blamed on al-Qaida in Iraq have been waged by fellow clansmen or warring tribes. U.S. military officials often refer to al-Qaida in Iraq as a foreign-led organization that relies on suicide bombers from other Arab countries, but the bulk of its members are Iraqis.

The Sunni paramilitary movement, commonly referred to as Sons of Iraq, is credited with helping reduce Iraq's violence in the last year after breaking with its radicalized brethren. However, the Shiite-led Iraqi government has reluctantly embraced the Sunni fighters, many of them former insurgents.

Ned Parker and Saif Hameed write for the Los Angeles Times.

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