Attacks hit new allies, civilians in Iraq
Blasts, strike kill at least 42; Coincide with visit by Gates
BAGHDAD - Car bombs and gunmen struck new US allies, police, and civilians yesterday in northern Iraq, killing at least 42 people. The violence coincided with a visit by Defense Secretary Robert Gates to Baghdad, where he warned that hard choices face Iraq's political leaders on how to stabilize the country despite promising new signs of progress toward reconciliation.
The deadliest bombing was near Balad, 50 miles north of Baghdad, against a checkpoint manned jointly by Iraqi police and members of an awakening group.
The US military said a car bomb exploded near an Iraqi checkpoint in a market in Balad, killing at least 23 civilians and wounding 25. US and Iraqi forces had secured the area and the wounded were evacuated to hospitals, according to a statement.
Iraqi police said the attack was a suicide truck bombing against a checkpoint manned by anti-Al Qaeda fighters and Iraqi police at the entrance of a bridge in the district of Yathrib on the outskirts of Balad. Security forces fired at the driver, who managed to detonate his payload, devastating a nearby car market and other stores.
Police in the joint coordination center of the surrounding Salahuddin province gave death tolls as high as 34 and said 37 others were wounded. Captain Kadim Hamid said many residents in the predominantly Sunni area had removed victims directly from the site because they feared going to the hospital in Balad's mostly Shi'ite center.
The explosion came hours after suspected Al Qaeda-linked insurgents stormed two villages near the Syrian border but were repelled by US-allied fighters and Iraqi security forces in clashes that left at least 22 people dead.
Sheik Fawaz al-Jarba, the head of the Mosul anti-Al Qaeda group, and other officials said the 22 killed included 10 militants and six members of the so-called awakening group in the area, as well as four women and two children.
The US military in northern Iraq confirmed an attack on a compound housing its Sunni allies against Al Qaeda in Iraq near Sinjar, about 60 miles west of Mosul, saying five US-allied fighters were killed, five wounded and 10 insurgents were killed.
Insurgents also attacked a group of civilians elsewhere in the northern Ninevah Province yesterday, killing two men and one child and wounding two other men, two women, and two infants, according to the military.
Iraqi police also said four civilians were killed yesterday when a tanker truck laden with explosives blew up near an Iraqi army checkpoint on Mosul's southern outskirts.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of Iraq has promised a "decisive battle" against the terror network in Mosul but given no start date. The US military has warned it will not be a swift strike, but rather a grinding campaign that will require more firepower.
An Al Qaeda front group for northern Iraq warned last week in an Internet statement that it was launching its own campaign in Mosul and surrounding areas.
In all, at least 59 people were reported killed or found dead by police yesterday, including three policemen who perished in a suicide car bombing at a checkpoint in the Anbar city of Fallujah and 10 bullet-riddled bodies showing signs of torture.