Iraq bombs kill 22 including 3 U.S. soldiers

By Abdul Rahman Dhaher

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Suicide bombers killed at least 22 people, including three U.S. soldiers, in the Iraqi capital and the northern city of Kirkuk on Thursday, officials said.

The soldiers died when a suicide bomber struck at a crowded market in Baghdad's southern district of Doura, making it one of the deadliest incidents in months for U.S. troops as they curtail activities ahead of a withdrawal deadline in 2012.

An eyewitness said U.S. soldiers and Sunni Arab militiamen, part of a U.S.-backed Iraqi government program to combat al Qaeda, were around the market's entrance when a man walked into the crowd and blew himself up.

"There was chaos," the witness said, asking to go unnamed. "Some people ran; others fell to the floor in fright." Twelve civilians were killed and 25 others wounded, police said. The soldiers' deaths were confirmed by the U.S. military.

A sheet covered a body lying on the street and empty bandage packets littered a shop floor streaked with blood. A nearby hospital was packed with blast victims, including an elderly woman and young men, some crying in agony.

A recent rash of major attacks has raised doubts about whether Iraq can avoid sliding back into greater violence as the local military assumes greater security responsibility and U.S. troops curtail their activities and look towards withdrawal.

In Kirkuk, police said they thought a bomber dressed in a security forces uniform had mingled with militiamen, part of the same Sunni Arab movement known as the Awakening, as they approached an army building to be paid.

The bomber triggered a vest packed with explosives, killing seven people and wounding eight others, police said.

Cars nearby were damaged by the blast, their cracked windshields spattered with blood. Shoes littered the area.

The blasts come less than 24 hours after a car bomb killed 40 civilians and wounded 82 others in Baghdad's poor, mostly Shi'ite, district of Shula late on Wednesday, police said.

The United Nations' Mission to Iraq condemned the two days of bombings. U.N. representative Staffan de Mistura called them "reprehensible crimes that ... indiscriminately targeted ordinary Iraqis" and, in a statement, he offered condolences to the bereaved families.


Kirkuk is the centre of a long-running feud between majority Arabs and minority Kurds, who want to make the oil-producing region part of their largely autonomous northern region.

Kurd-Arab tensions are regarded as a major threat to Iraq's security, one that will not easily be solved given the huge oil reserves at stake and some Kurds' dreams of their own state.

Al Qaeda and others have frequently targeted Shi'ites in Iraq, whom they consider heretics, but have also hit Awakening guards credited with helping tame a raging insurgency.

Officials have lauded security gains in Iraq in the last year but a rash of bombings in April made it the deadliest month for civilians since November.

Doura, a mainly Sunni area, was hit on May 6 by a truck bomb that killed 10 people.

Hazim al-Nuaimi, a political analyst, said insurgents may be trying to exploit tensions between the Sunni militiamen, who include former militants themselves, and the Shi'ite-led government often accused by Sunnis of having a sectarian agenda.

The Iraqi government has agreed to take over responsibility for paying the Awakening militias, originally backed by the U.S. military, and to incorporate 20 percent into its security forces.

But many guards complain of government foot-dragging and a campaign to arrest militia leaders, which the government denies.

(Additional reporting by Mustafa Mahmoud in Kirkuk and Tim Cocks and Missy Ryan in Baghdad; Writing by Mohammed Abbas; editing by Robert Woodward)

Article Published: 22/05/2009