- The Washington Times - Friday, November 18, 2005

BAGHDAD — Suicide bombers struck in eastern Iraq and the capital yesterday, killing at least 74 Shi’ite worshippers at a mosque near the Iranian border and eight Iraqis at a hotel — the second attack against a compound housing Western news organizations and contractors in less than a month.

At sunset, hours after the near-simultaneous bombings of two mosques in the border town of Khanaqin, dozens of people were still searching for relatives and friends. Others collected shredded copies of the Muslim holy book, the Koran.

One survivor, Omar Saleh, said he was on his knees bowing in prayer when the bomb exploded at the Grand Mosque.

“The roof fell on us and the place was filled with dead bodies,” Mr. Saleh, 73, said from his hospital bed.

The attacks in Sheik Murad and Grand mosques in Khanaqin were ominous because they took place in a largely peaceful area about six miles from Iran. So few incidents have occurred there that Iraqi authorities believe they can soon take over security responsibilities from the U.S.-led coalition. That assumption has now been called into question.

It was the deadliest attack since Sept. 29, when three suicide car bombers struck in the mostly Shi’ite town of Balad just north of Baghdad, killing at least 99 persons.

Kamran Ahmed, director of the Khanaqin General Hospital, said 74 persons were killed and at least 100 were wounded at the mosques, which are more than a half-mile apart in the largely Kurdish town about 90 miles northeast of Baghdad. American soldiers with the 101st Airborne Division sent medical specialists and supplies to the town.

In Baghdad, the attack on the Hamra Hotel began at 8:12 a.m. when a white van exploded along a concrete blast wall protecting the compound, blowing a hole in the barrier. Less than a minute later, a water tanker packed with explosives plowed through the breach in an apparent effort to reach the hotel buildings.

But the driver — apparently blocked by smoke and debris — detonated his vehicle just inside the barrier, destroying several nearby homes and blowing out windows in the hotel. Eight Iraqis were killed and at least 43 persons were wounded, officials said.

News organizations housed at the Hamra include NBC News and the Boston Globe.

The tactics in the Hamra attack were similar to those employed in the Oct. 24 triple-vehicle assault on the Palestine Hotel, where employees of the Associated Press, Fox News and other organizations live and work. In that attack, which killed 17 Iraqis, one vehicle blew a hole in the blast wall, opening the way for a cement truck packed with explosives to penetrate the compound.

The truck blew up only a few feet into the compound after U.S. troops raked the vehicle with automatic fire and the driver got stuck in debris. A third vehicle exploded a short distance away.

The latest attacks in Khanaqin and Baghdad have brought to at least 1,617 the number of Iraqis killed in suicide attacks since the Shi’ite-led government took power April 28, according to an Associated Press count.

The attack on Shi’ite worshippers occurred amid rising tension between Iraq’s majority Shi’ite and minority Sunni communities. Tension escalated after last weekend’s discovery of 173 malnourished detainees — some bearing signs of torture — in an Interior Ministry building in Baghdad seized by American soldiers.

Most of the prisoners are believed to have been Sunni Arabs, and the discovery lent credence to accusations of abuse leveled against troops controlled by the Shi’ite-led Interior Ministry.

Interior Minister Bayn Jabr said the torture accusations were exaggerated. Sunni Arab politicians and clerics have demanded an international investigation.

Louise Arbour, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, endorsed calls for an international probe “in light of the apparently systemic nature and magnitude of that problem.”

“I urge authorities to consider calling for an international inquiry,” she said in Geneva.

Also yesterday, U.S. and Iraqi troops killed 32 insurgents in fighting around Ramadi, capital of Anbar province 70 miles west of Baghdad, the U.S. military said.

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