BAGHDAD - A suicide car bomber targeted the provincial police headquarters in Mosul yesterday, killing at least nine people and wounding dozens, police said. The attack underscored fears that Sunni insurgents are regrouping despite a US-Iraqi offensive in the northern city.
No one claimed responsibility for the attack, but suicide operations are commonly associated with Al Qaeda in Iraq - the main target of US-Iraqi military operations to clear the city 225 miles northwest of Baghdad.
Salim Shakir said he was walking toward his house in the area when he was hit with shrapnel in the stomach and legs.
"We are shocked because we thought that the violent days had ended," the 47-year-old taxi driver said from his hospital bed. "This explosion shows that the insurgents are still active, and much is needed to stop them."
The US military has said the Qaeda network in Iraq is on the run but retains the ability to conduct high-profile car bombings and suicide attacks. American and Iraqi troops have faced relatively little resistance since launching the offensive May 10, but commanders warn that many key insurgent leaders have fled to outlying areas and are planning future attacks.
Yesterday, the attacker detonated his explosives-laden car about 8 p.m. as he approached a checkpoint allowing cars through concrete blast barriers surrounding the headquarters, located in a busy commercial district.
Those killed included five policemen and four civilians, while 46 other people were wounded, according to a police officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.
The blast highlighted the fragility of recent security gains even as the Iraqi government struggles to take advantage of the relative calm in the country to make political progress.
Iraqi lawmakers said yesterday they are stepping up negotiations on a draft law setting rules for provincial elections, to begin in October. They warned that failure to reach agreement within the next two weeks may lead to a delay in the key vote to redistribute power among Iraq's fractured parties.
The elections to choose councils for Iraq's 18 provinces are seen as an important step in repairing the country's sectarian rifts, particularly by opening the door for greater Sunni Arab political representation.
Many Sunnis boycotted the last election for provincial officials in January 2005, enabling Shi'ites and Kurds to win a disproportionate share of power at their expense - even in areas with substantial Sunni populations.
Followers of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr also are hoping to make large gains in southern provinces, where many of the councils are dominated by rival Shi'ite parties in the government coalition.