A suicide bombing and street skirmishes kill 16 in Iraq
Police raid offices of Shi'ite cleric, sparking gunfight
BAGHDAD -- A suicide bombing in the north and street battles hundreds of miles away in a Shi'ite holy city in the south claimed 16 lives yesterday, demonstrating the tenuous security in Iraq as the United States focuses on curbing sectarian violence in Baghdad.
Nine people died in the suicide attack outside the regional party headquarters of Iraq's president in the northern city of Mosul; seven were killed in the fighting between Iraqi forces and followers of an anti-American cleric in Karbala.
In Baghdad, meanwhile, the US military said car bombs triggered deadly explosions in a Shi'ite neighborhood Sunday, backing away from assertions that the blasts were caused by an accidental gas leak.
The suicide driver detonated his vehicle at the Mosul office of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party of President Jalal Talabani, killing five civilians and four security guards, police Colonel Abdul-Kareem Ahmed al-Jibouri said. Forty-one people were wounded by the blast, which heavily damaged the one-story building and set 17 cars on fire, he said.
In Karbala, a Shi'ite holy city 270 miles south of Mosul, gun battles broke out after police raided the office of Mahmoud al-Hassani, a Shi'ite cleric known for anti-American and anti-Iranian views. Police said they were searching for weapons.
Hassani's followers responded by attacking police stations and checkpoints in at least five areas of the city, residents and officials said. Gunmen in civilian clothing fired Kalashnikov rifles, machine guns, and rocket-propelled grenades at Iraqi Army patrols.
A regional health official said three Iraqi policemen and four gunmen were killed, and 17 people were wounded in the clashes. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media.
Officials ordered an indefinite curfew in the city, which houses some of the world's most sacred shrines for Shi'ite Muslims. But the curfew was widely ignored as gunmen roamed the streets, firing at police and soldiers.
``We have asked for extra forces from neighboring provinces to control the situation after clashes erupted between Hassani's supporters and the security forces," said Ghalib al-Daami, a member of Karbala's provincial council.
Late yesterday, residents said tensions were rising in another Shi'ite city, Nasiriyah, with Hassani's followers brandishing weapons and blocking some streets.
Hassani gained prominence for his nationalistic stand, calling for an Iraq free of influence from the Americans and Shi'ite-dominated Iran. Other key Shi'ite figures have sought to dampen his influence, which is mostly in Karbala and Basra, Iraq's second-largest city.
The US command is rushing 12,000 US and Iraqi reinforcements to curb unrest in the capital, which US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad has described as the greatest threat to Iraq's future.
However, many other parts of the country remain unstable after three years of the US-led international military presence, including the Sunni insurgent strongholds of Anbar and Basra, where British forces have failed to prevent Shi'ite militias from infiltrating the police and security services.
In Baghdad, US and Iraqi forces have surrounded the Sunni neighborhoods of Amariyah and Ghazaliyah and the Shi'ite area of Shula, systematically searching houses and shops for weapons, residents said yesterday.
One resident of Amariyah said the troops have allowed people to move about the streets, but food and other goods were running low in the shops because the extra security had prevented merchants from restocking their shelves.
Those neighborhoods have been the scene of many killings, shootings, and other violent clashes between Sunni and Shi'ite extremists.
So far, however, the security operation has not resulted in a significant reduction in violence. On Sunday, 63 people were killed and about 140 were wounded in a series of explosions in Zafraniyah, a Shi'ite district of Baghdad.