- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 13, 2007

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq will close its borders with Syria and Iran for 72 hours as part of the drive to secure and pacify Baghdad, the Iraqi commander of the crackdown said today, hours after a suicide bombing in a mainly Shi’ite neighborhood killed at least 15 persons.

Lt. Gen. Abboud Gambar, addressing the nation on behalf of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, did not say when the borders would be closed. A government official said it was expected within two days.

The government official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press, said the borders with Iran would only be partially reopened even after the 72-hour period ended.

The U.S. military announced last week that the sweep was already in progress, but an al-Maliki aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, said the operation had not yet begun, as far as the Iraqi government was concerned.

The U.S. military said a soldier was killed Sunday in fighting in volatile Anbar province, west of Baghdad, raising to 42 the number of American deaths this month.

Today’s suicide truck bombing, which also wounded 27 persons, was the latest in a series of attacks since the announcement of the security crackdown aimed at stopping the sectarian violence that has killed hundreds since the start of the year.

Witnesses said the suicide bomber drove his explosives-laden truck into cars parked on a street as people were entering a Trade Ministry office that administers ration cards for the area.

The office and warehouses storing sugar and other rationed foodstuffs are next to the private College of Economic Sciences, but it was closed for midterm, so no students were among the casualties, police said.

Police also discovered a booby-trapped ambulance about 500 yards away, but the explosives were defused.

Hours later, a parked-car bomb exploded near a bakery in another predominantly Shi’ite area in southeastern Baghdad, killing four persons and wounding four, police said.

Yesterday, huge car bombs shattered the crowded Shorja marketplace — Baghdad’s oldest — obliterating shops and stalls. The casualty toll from that blast rose slightly today to 81 killed and 172 wounded, according to officials at four hospitals where the victims were taken.

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