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Female suicide bomber strikes Iraqi soccer fans

A female suicide bomber targeted soccer fans near a cafe north of Baghdad as they were celebrating Iraq's win in a World Cup qualifying game, Iraqi police said.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A female suicide bomber targeted a crowd of soccer fans celebrating Iraq's win in a World Cup qualifier on Saturday, wounding at least 34 people near a cafe north of Baghdad, police said.

The young woman, who was covered in a traditional black Islamic robe, was dropped off by a car shortly before the attack as dozens of cheering young men poured out onto the streets after watching Iraq beat China 2-1 on TV in the cafe in the town of Qara Tappah.

She told suspicious police that she was waiting for her husband but blew herself up after an officer spotted the detonator and began screaming at the crowd to disperse, according to the town's top administrator Serwan Shukir.

Seven police and 27 civilians were among the wounded, Shukir said, but the officer's warning had averted a higher casualty toll by preventing the woman from reaching the bulk of the fans.

Police Capt. Najib Khourshid said she was about 20 yards away from the crowd when the blast occurred.

"About 100 people were in the cafe and we went out to celebrate the victory after the match. Minutes later, a big explosion took place near us," said Salman Hameed, who was wounded in his chest and right hand. "The female bomber has spoiled our joy and celebration."

Hameed, a Sunni Arab, said five of his Kurdish and Turkomen friends also were wounded in the attack.

Qara Tappah is a mainly Kurdish and Shiite Turkomen city, about 75 miles northeast of Baghdad in the volatile Diyala province. The attack followed warnings by U.S. officials that al-Qaida in Iraq is increasing efforts to recruit women as suicide attackers in a bid to subvert stepped up security measures, particularly in Diyala.

In Baghdad, a bomb hidden on a bus exploded in a Shiite neighborhood, killing two people and wounding eight, police said. Three other civilians were injured Saturday when a roadside bomb exploded near a police patrol in the capital's Karradah district, police said.

Bush optimistic
U.S. President Bush, meanwhile, brushed off comments that negotiations on a long-term security agreement between the United States and Iraq were faltering ahead of a July target date for completion. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told reporters Friday that the talks were deadlocked but would continue.

In Paris, Bush said he was still optimistic that a deal would be finalized.

"If I were a betting man, we'll reach an agreement with the Iraqis," Bush said. "Of course, we're there at their invitation. It's a sovereign nation ... We're going to work hard to accommodate their desires. It's their country."

Failure to strike a deal would be a major setback for Bush ahead of the November presidential election and would leave the future of the U.S. mission here to the next president. The agreement would provide a legal basis for American troops to remain here after the U.N. mandate expires at the end of the year, raising Iraqi concerns about sovereignty issues.

Al-Maliki, himself a Shiite, has sought to assert more control with a series of U.S.-supported operations against Shiite and Sunni extremists in a bid to maintain recent security gains that have led to dramatic falls in violence nationwide.

New operation
Helicopters blanketed Amarah with pamphlets Saturday urging residents to cooperate with Iraqi security forces as they prepare for a new operation against Shiite militia fighters in the oil-producing southern city.

The pamphlets urged residents to provide information about "the hideouts of outlaws" and warned them to stay indoors when the new operation dubbed "Imposing Law" starts, two local police officers said on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to release information to the media. No kickoff date for the operation was provided in the pamphlets.

Iraqi soldiers accompanied by American military advisers have begun moving into Amarah, capital of Maysan province and the purported hub of weapons smuggling from nearby Iran.

U.S. and Iraqi commanders also say many militia chiefs have fled to Amarah — a longtime safe haven for anti-U.S. Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia — and Iran after security operations against them in Basra and Baghdad's Sadr City district.

A senior official in al-Sadr's office in the holy city of Najaf said a Sadrist delegation led by lawmaker Hazim al-Araji was sent Friday to Amarah to try to defuse the tensions and to encourage fighters to adhere to a cease-fire. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release the information.