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Suicide blast kills 73 in Baghdad

Shi'ite area hit by car bomber

BAGHDAD -- A suicide car bomber drove his vehicle into a crowd in north Baghdad early today and detonated it, killing at least 73 people and wounding 162, police said.

The 6:30 a.m. blast targeted a group of day laborers who had assembled before going to work on nearby construction sites, police Major Musa Abdel Kerim said.

The number of deaths is expected to rise, Lieutenant Colonel Moayad Zubair said.

The site of the bombing, Kazimiyah district, is almost entirely Shi'ite. Sunni militants have mounted a series of attacks on Shi'ites in an apparent effort to provoke retaliation and a sectarian conflict.

According to Reuters, an Interior Ministry source said that the bomber detonated his explosives after he pulled up in the vehicle and called to a group of men to gather round, saying he was looking for workers.

Reuters quoted one of the workers who survived the attack as saying, ''We gathered and suddenly a car blew up and turned the area into fire and dust and darkness."

The bombing was one of a series of attacks yesterday and this morning. In the village of Taji, just north of Baghdad, gunmen wearing military uniforms dragged 17 people out of their homes in Taji, just north of Baghdad, and killed them early today. Police Lieutenant Waleed al-Hayali said the gunmen detained the victims after searching the village. The victims, members of the Tameem tribe, were handcuffed and blindfolded, then shot at a site about a mile from the village.

In Basra, a roadside bomb killed four people. Iraqi police said the dead were four US contract workers, but US officials were unable to confirm the nationalities of the victims. Last Wednesday, a roadside bomb near Basra hit a passing convoy of US diplomatic security guards, killing four Americans.

Farther north, US forces widened their operations against insurgents yesterday, launching an attack on the Euphrates River stronghold of Haditha only days after evicting militants from Tal Afar. Residents also reported US airstrikes in the same region near Qaim.

US forces called in bombing raids in Haditha, 140 miles northwest of the capital. They captured one militant with alleged ties to Al Qaeda in Iraq and killed four others.

In the volatile city of Qaim, about 80 miles northwest of Haditha, residents said clashes broke out between insurgents and coalition forces. The US military did not confirm the airstrikes there.

A US Army commander said yesterday that extremist fighters battling for control of Tal Afar had committed atrocities against civilians, including beheadings, torture, and the booby-trapping of a murdered child's body.

Colonel H.R. McMaster, commander of the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment, said in an interview from Tal Afar with reporters at the Pentagon that Tal Afar is not yet under the control of the 5,000 Iraqi government forces and 3,500 to 3,800 US troops that have been fighting together there for the past two weeks. Tal Afar lies about 50 miles from the Syrian border.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, also in Washington, said Syria was playing a ''dangerous game" in allowing insurgents to penetrate Iraq from Syrian territory.

''Don't think you can benefit from our difficulties. It may be for the short term, but for the long term it might backfire on you," he warned Iraq's neighbor to the west.

Syrian officials say they are doing all they can and deny they offer sanctuary to insurgents.

As the offensive wound down in Tal Afar, 260 miles northwest of Baghdad, American commanders said US and Iraqi forces captured more than 400 suspected militants in the operation.

President Jalal Talabani, meanwhile, said in Washington that Iraq would not set a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops, declaring at a news conference with President Bush that the US force still was needed. The Bush administration is under increasing pressure at home to set a date to begin pulling out the 140,000 US troops.

''We will set no timetable for withdrawal. A timetable will help the terrorists," Talabani said. He said he hoped Iraqi security forces could take responsibility for the country by the end of 2006.

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