Bombers killed 42 people Thursday at a Baghdad restaurant favored by police and an army recruiting center to the north, while Iraqi troops along the Iranian border found 27 decomposing bodies, unidentified victims of the grisly violence plaguing the country.
In the deadliest bombing in Baghdad since Sept. 19, a suicide bomber blew himself up in a restaurant about 9:45 a.m., when officers usually stop in for breakfast. Police Maj. Falah al-Mohammedawi said 35 officers and civilians died and 25 were wounded.
Al-Qaida in Iraq claimed in an Internet posting that it staged the attack in retaliation for U.S. and Iraqi operations near the Syrian border. Earlier, it claimed responsibility for Wednesday night’s deadly hotel bombings in neighboring Jordan, linking those blasts to the conflict in Iraq.
Samiya Mohammed, who lives near the restaurant, said she rushed out when she heard the explosion.
“There was bodies, mostly civilians, and blood everywhere inside the place. This is a criminal act that only targeted and hurt innocent people having their breakfast,” she said.
There were no Americans in the area, she said. “I do not understand why most of the time it is the Iraqis who are killed,” she added.
Deadliest blast since September
The blast was the most deadly since a car bomb ripped through a market in a poor Shiite Muslim neighborhood on the eastern outskirts of Baghdad, killing at least 30 people and wounding 38 on Sept. 19.
Police first reported two bombers struck the restaurant because some witnesses heard two blasts. Later, al-Mohammedawi said the suicide attacker carried a bomb in a satchel and also wore an explosives belt and the two detonated independently.
Thursday’s other big attack came in Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, 80 miles north of the capital, where a car bomb blew up in the middle of a group of men outside an Iraqi army recruiting center. Seven were killed and 13 wounded, police Capt. Hakim al-Azawi said.
The men were former officers during Saddam’s regime, Azawi said.
Last week, Iraq’s defense minister invited officers of Saddam’s army up to the rank of major to enlist in the new Iraqi army. It was an overture to disaffected Sunni Arab ex-soldiers, many of whom joined the insurgency after the Americans abolished the Iraqi armed forces in 2003.
Straw arrives in Baghdad
The bombings came just before British Foreign Secretary Straw arrived in Baghdad for a meeting with Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari to discuss the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections.
“This is a very exciting time to visit Iraq: Once more, the country’s people will have the chance to decide who will govern them, and I am pleased to see that all of the different communities in the country are taking part,” Straw said.
In another sign of the country’s sectarian and criminal violence, Iraqi soldiers found the decomposing bodies of 27 people near Jassan, a town close to the border with Iran, Col. Ali Mahmoud said.
They were not immediately identified, but the area is a known dumping ground for such groups of bodies, which turn up with regularity in Iraq. Officials suspect death squads from the Shiite majority, the Sunni minority and criminal gangs are responsible for the killings.
Hundreds of victims
At least 566 bodies have been found since Iraq’s interim government was formed April 28, 204 of them in Baghdad, according to an Associated Press count.
The identities of many are never determined, but 116 are known to be Sunni Arabs, 43 Shiites and one Kurd. Some are likely victims of crimes, including kidnappings, which are rampant in some cities and as dangerous to Iraqis as political violence.
In western Iraq, U.S. officials said Operation Steel Curtain was moving out of the town of Husaybah to the village of Karabilah, a militant stronghold on the Syrian border. The 6-day-old operation aims to secure the area that U.S. commanders believe is used to smuggle foreign fighters and weapons into Iraq.
Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, a senior U.S. military officer in Iraq, told reporters Thursday that U.S. and Iraqi troops in Husaybah killed 37 insurgents, arrested 165 suspected insurgents and found 28 weapons caches.
“We have indeed seen a reduction in the number of suicide attacks in Baghdad,” Lynch said, adding that he believed the operation along the Syrian border was an important factor.
He said a key component of the operation was the occupation of towns by Iraqi forces once combat operations are finished.
The spokesman for Iraq’s government said $7 million has been earmarked for compensating families for damaged houses and cars in Husaybah, and $35 million for government buildings and infrastructure projects. He said some 900 people were forced from their homes by the fighting.
“The Iraqi government is taking care of these families directly by supplying them with their needs,” said Laith Kubba, spokesman for the prime minister. “All the roads are open and the city is safe now as the Iraqi Red Crescent is working there.”
The U.S. command said two men suspected of being regional leaders of al-Qaida in Iraq had been confirmed killed during the Husaybah operation.
One, known as Asadallah, allegedly was “a senior al-Qaida in Iraq terrorist leader and foreign fighter facilitator” who commanded several terrorist cells, the statement said. The other, Abu Zahra, was reportedly assistant to the head of al-Qaida operations in Husaybah, it said.