A suicide truck bomber struck a police station in a mainly Sunni area in Baghdad on Saturday, killing at least 18 people, police said, as insurgents apparently step up their campaign against fellow Sunnis seen as collaborating with the U.S. and the Iraqi government.
Northwest of the capital, in the predominantly Sunni Turkomen city of Tal Afar, a suicide bomber wearing an explosives belt struck a pastry shop, killing at least 10 people and wounding three, said the city's top administrator, Najim Abdullah said. The attack came just over a year after President Bush cited Tal Afar as an example of progress made in bringing security to Iraq.
The blast in Baghdad, which could be heard across the city and sent up a plume of black smoke over the skyline, came a day after Deputy Prime Minister Salam al-Zubaie was seriously wounded in a suicide bombing during prayers at his home in Baghdad. Nine other people were killed, including al-Zubaie's brother and an aide.
Al-Zubaie was in stable condition and moved out of the intensive care unit Saturday morning, but he remained under anaesthesia at a U.S.-run hospital in the heavily guarded Green Zone, Sunni lawmaker Dhafer al-Ani said.
Brig. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, a military spokesman, said he had visited al-Zubaie in the hospital and found him in good condition.
"The medical situation of Dr. al-Zubaie is stable after he had a surgical operation to remove shrapnel from his lungs," al-Moussawi told state-run Iraqiya television.
The attacks in Baghdad appeared to signal a renewed focus by insurgents targeting Iraqi security forces, politicians and tribes perceived as cooperating with the U.S.-Iraqi efforts. The bomber attacked al-Zubaie a day after a statement purportedly posted on the Internet by an al-Qaida umbrella group singled him out as a stooge "to the crusader occupiers."
The Sunni Iraqi Accordance Front, the biggest Sunni parliamentary bloc to which al-Zubaie belonged, said attacks will not force Sunnis to abandon the political process.
"Whether al-Qaida or other organizations were behind such attacks, this will not force us to abandon our principles and firm stances in moving ahead with the political process," said Sunni lawmaker Amil al-Qadhi.
The U.S. military announced the death Friday of an American soldier killed by a roadside bomb while on a foot patrol south of Baghdad. Another U.S. soldier was killed in fighting in Anbar, the military said.
The suicide bomber targeting police on Saturday in the volatile Sunni neighborhood of Dora managed to bypass tight security to get within 25 yards of the station by hiding the explosives under a load of bricks, detonating them after being stopped by a long barricade guarded by policemen and surrounded by concrete blast walls, said Police Cpl. Hussam Ali, who witnessed the blast from a nearby guard post.
Ali said there was construction work being done inside the station and trucks had been coming in and out all day.
The force of the blast caused part of the blue and white, two-story building to collapse, including the ceiling of a room where some detainees were being held, police said. Those killed included five policemen and 13 civilians, including some detainees, while 15 officers and 11 civilians were wounded, according to the authorities.
"We were very cautious, but this time we were taken by surprise," Ali said. "The insurgents are inventing new methods to hurt us."
The 10:45 a.m. explosion occurred nearly three hours after two mortar shells landed on a Shiite enclave elsewhere in Dora, killing three people and wounding seven, police said.
Gunmen also ambushed an Iraqi army checkpoint in Baghdad's western Sunni neighborhood of Jami'a, killing a soldier and wounding two others, police said, adding that a militant also was killed in subsequent clashes.
The Islamic State in Iraq claimed responsibility for the bombing against al-Zubaie in which the bomber detonated an explosives vest after weekly prayers in a small mosque attached to al-Zubaie's home near the Foreign Ministry, just north of the capital's heavily guarded Green Zone.
The Iraqi military spokesman al-Moussawi called the sucide bombing an inside job, telling state television that an al-Qaida fighter had infiltrated al-Zubaie's security detachment, but he offered no details and repeated calls to his office to verify the claim went unanswered. The Interior Ministry, which oversees Iraq's police forces, said it had no information on that claim.
Al-Maliki aide Mariam Taleb al-Rayes also told al-Sharqiyah television the attacker had "infiltrated" al-Zubaie's inner circle, but did not elaborate. She added that the bomber's car blew up outside the house seconds after he detonated his explosives vest.
Al-Zubaie's loss would be a blow to the government, but the al-Maliki administration would not be derailed. There is no legal requirement the post be filled by a Sunni Arab _ only an informal agreement among the political parties that formed the current government, and leaders would likely be able to find another Sunni if necessary.
The White House condemned the attack, and U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad promised the United States would work with the Iraqi government and security forces to capture those behind it.
Hundreds of Iraqis also turned out in the southern city of Basra for the funeral of al-Zubaie's regional aide, Mufid Abdul Zahraa, who was killed in the attack.
The deputy prime minister belongs to a tribe that is centered in Abu Ghraib, west of Baghdad, and has been divided between members who support al-Qaida and others who have joined an alliance that has been created to fight the insurgents in Anbar province, which stretches to the borders with Syria, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
If the Islamic State in Iraq, an organization linking al-Qaida in Iraq and several other Sunni extremist groups, was responsible for the attack, that might signal a growing concern within al-Qaida about recent success by U.S. troops in Anbar.
"This terrorist organization is trying to compensate for its big defeats in Anbar by attacking al-Zubaie, who is an outspoken critic of the terrorists," said Tariq al-Dulaimi, a senior security official in Ramadi.
Al-Zubaie is among a long list of politicians - Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds - who have been targeted by militants seeking to undermine a succession of U.S.-backed governments in Iraq. Close relatives of government officials have also been victims of assassinations, abductions and roadside bombs.
At least 11 other people were killed or found dead on Saturday, including a civilian who died after a parked truck packed with explosives struck a Shiite mosque in Haswa, 30 miles south of Baghdad, and the bullet-riddled bodies of eight men showing signs of torture in Fallujah