- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 30, 2007

BAGHDAD (AP) — A suicide bomber rode his bicycle into a crowd of police recruits in Baqouba yesterday, killing at least 29 persons in a province that has become a battleground among U.S. forces, al Qaeda militants and Shi’ite radicals.

Several Shi’ite and Sunni clerics, meanwhile, were rescued one day after they were kidnapped in the capital after meeting with the government to discuss how to coordinate efforts against al Qaeda in Iraq.

In a reflection of the extraordinary complexity of Iraq, the U.S. military blamed a Shi’ite militant for the kidnapping. The military did not reveal its evidence, but has claimed that so-called rogue Shi’ite groups are doing everything possible to stop Iraqis from joining U.S. forces — even in the fight against the Sunni al Qaeda in Iraq.

Suicide bombings, viewed most often as the work of al Qaeda, have taken a mighty toll among police and army recruits and are carried out to discourage Iraqi men from joining the country’s struggling security forces.

Police and hospital officials reported at least 19 persons wounded in the attack in Baqouba, the capital of Diyala province 35 miles northeast of Baghdad. Mohammed al-Kirrawi, a doctor at the Baqouba general hospital, said most of the victims were struck by ball bearings packed in the bomber’s suicide vest and that the hospital lacked equipment to save many of the wounded.

One of the wounded recruits told the Associated Press he decided to join the police force only after his father was killed in sectarian violence and he was left as the large family’s sole provider.

“This was an al Qaeda operation, and they were after both Shi’ites and Sunnis,” said Saadulden Mohammed, a 25-year-old Shi’ite, who spoke to a reporter as he was receiving a blood transfusion.

“I was standing at the end of the platoon. Suddenly I saw explosion and fire. I would have been killed if I were standing with my Sunni friend. He died. We had breakfast together today,” sobbed Mr. Mohammed, who was wounded in the back and legs.

The kidnapped tribal sheiks were also from Diyala province. Contradicting original reports, Iraqi Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammed al-Askari said only nine sheiks were kidnapped and that eight were freed. He said four kidnappers were killed and six were wounded in the rescue operation. He did not say who carried out the raid.

Reports on Sunday had said seven Shi’ites and three Sunnis were kidnapped.

Police found the bullet-riddled body of one of the Sunni sheiks, Mishaan Hilan, about 50 yards from where the ambush occurred, according to an officer who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The U.S. accused Shi’ite militia leader Arkan Hasnawi, a former brigade commander in the Mahdi Army militia, of the kidnapping.

Mr. Hasnawi’s breakaway Shi’ite fighters have battled al Qaeda for control in Diyala since the terrorist organization moved into the region and sought to make it a headquarters.

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