- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 4, 2006

BAGHDAD — A suicide bomber struck a funeral for a Shi’ite politician’s nephew yesterday, killing at least 32 mourners, wounding dozens and splattering tombstones with blood — part of a surge of violence as Iraqi leaders try to form a coalition government.

A total of 53 persons died in the day’s attacks, which included two car bombings in Baghdad and a militant ambush on a convoy of tanker trucks heading from Iraq’s biggest refinery to the capital.

The funeral bombing in Muqdadiyah, 60 miles north of Baghdad, bore hallmarks of Islamic extremist groups such as al Qaeda in Iraq. Politicians said the attack was an attempt to hinder a broad-based government, or force the dominant Shi’ite alliance into further compromises. Shi’ites were said to be close to a deal on a coalition with Sunni Arabs and Kurds nearly three weeks after parliamentary elections.

The bomber struck as more than 100 mourners chanted a ritual Islamic prayer, “There is no god but God.” They were at the cemetery to bury a 14-year-old boy a day after he was killed in a failed assassination attempt on his uncle, Ahmed al-Bakka, the director of the local hospital.

Mr. al-Bakka, who was not at the funeral, is the head of the local branch of the Dawa party. Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari leads the party, which is a main partner in the country’s largest Shi’ite political coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan noted that the “horrendous crime” was the latest in a series of increasingly violent attacks after the Dec. 15 elections, and called on Iraqis not to undermine the democratic process.

Results from the elections should be released within two weeks, and are expected to show the United Iraqi Alliance with about 130 of parliament’s 275 seats. That figure is well short of the 184 needed to form a government.

The Interior Ministry yesterday reported 2,880 terrorist attacks on Iraqi security forces and civilians last year. About 1,225 policemen and 475 soldiers were killed, along with 4,021 civilians and 1,709 insurgents, the ministry said. Overall, 7,430 Iraqis were killed, figures showed.

The U.S. military does not track civilian deaths.

Although Islamic extremist groups were suspected in the funeral attack, an Internet posting in the name of the Islamic Army in Iraq, a nationalist group, took responsibility for the ambush of the tanker convoy. The Islamic Army in Iraq is thought to include former Ba’athists and loyalists to Saddam Hussein.

Nobody was injured in the attack on the drivers, which came three days after the reopening of the Beiji refinery, Iraq’s largest. The refinery, located north of the capital, had been closed since Dec. 18 because of attacks on drivers, leading to hours-long lines at gas stations in Baghdad.

Meanwhile, roadblocks went up across Baghdad as police searched for Interior Minister Bayan Jabr’s sister, who was kidnapped Tuesday. Gunmen killed one of her bodyguards and wounded another in the abduction.

Al Jazeera television reported that a previously unknown group called the al-Tha’r Battalion, Arabic for revenge, took responsibility for the abduction.

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