Bomber kills Iraqi police chief touring blast site

Image: A huge crater at the site of Wednesday's bomb attack in Mosul
A huge crater is seen at the site of Wednesday's bomb attack in Mosul, 390 km (240 miles) northwest of Baghdad, January 24, 2008. The attack killed 20 people, wounded 150 and destroyed or badly damaged 35 houses, security officials said. That blast, blamed on al Qaeda, was in an unoccupied building used to store weapons and tonnes of explosives, the U.S. military said.Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

A suicide bomber killed an Iraqi police chief and two other officers Thursday after they toured the site of the wreckage of a blast a day earlier that devastated a predominantly Sunni neighborhood in the volatile northern city of Mosul.

The casualty toll from Wednesday explosion rose to at least 34 dead and 224 injured, said Hisham al-Hamdani, the head of the Ninevah provincial council. The blast collapsed a three-story apartment building and ravaged adjacent houses just minutes after the Iraqi army arrived to investigate tips about a weapons cache.

The bomber on Thursday was wearing an explosives vest under an Iraqi police uniform when he struck, killing Brig. Gen. Salah Mohammed al-Jubouri, the director of police for Ninevah province, the U.S. military said. Two other policemen died and a U.S. soldier, three Iraqi police and an Iraqi soldier were wounded, the military said.

Police spokesman Brig. Gen. Saeed al-Jubouri said the police chief was attacked after gunmen ambushed the blast site, sparking clashes that lasted for about 15 minutes. The bomber moved toward Hassan's car as it was preparing to flee the area, al-Jubouri said.

The U.S. military said initial reports indicated al-Qaida in Iraq was behind Thursday's attack. Wednesday's explosion remained under investigation.

A bulldozer worked through the night to clear the debris, with vehicles providing light as dozens of people watched on the rim of a massive crater that was left by Wednesday's blast, footage from the local Mosuliyah TV station showed.

The TV footage showed one woman looking stunned as she held a bandage to her face in an emergency room and doctors rushed to treat a man whose face was bloodied.

Weapons cache tip off
The explosion came after the army received calls that insurgents were using the vacant building as a shelter and a bomb-making factory, police said.

Duraid Kashmola, the governor of Ninevah province, of which Mosul is the capital, imposed an indefinite curfew in the city's downtown following the clashes.

He said a preliminary investigation showed al-Qaida in Iraq was behind Wednesday's explosion in a bid "to terrorize Mosul residents."

American and Iraqi forces have been on the offensive against militants in and around Baghdad. But Mosul _ Iraq's third-largest city some 225 miles northwest of the capital _ continues to be a center of gravity for al-Qaida in Iraq and other insurgents, the U.S. military says.

The blast in Mosul was the latest in a series of bombings across Iraq, including in some areas that have seen a relative calm recently with the security gains from U.S.-Iraqi operations and a Sunni revolt against al-Qaida in Iraq.

A roadside bomb also struck a police patrol Thursday in central Baghdad, killing two officers and injuring two, along with three civilians, police said. The explosion occurred about 8 a.m. in the predominantly Shiite neighborhood of Karradah.

Mosul, a major transportation hub with highways leading west to Syria and south to Baghdad, is considered a crucial conduit in the flow of money and foreign fighters to support the insurgency. The military said earlier this week that it was the last urban center where al-Qaida in Iraq still has a strong presence.

Attacks have persisted in recent months in northern Iraq even as violence has declined in Baghdad and other areas.