- The Washington Times - Friday, September 16, 2005

BAGHDAD — A leading Sunni cleric called for religious and ethnic groups to take a stand against violence in Iraq as a third consecutive day of sectarian killings took at least 24 lives, including a suicide car bombing at a Shi’ite mosque that killed at least 12 worshippers as they left Friday prayers.

The bombing in Tuz Khormato, where a young Saudi man was later arrested wearing a bomb belt on his way to a second mosque, was the latest suicide attack since al Qaeda in Iraq’s declaration of all-out war on Iraq’s Shi’ite Muslim majority.

Jordanian-born Abu Musab Zarqawi’s terror group said it was taking revenge for a joint Iraqi-U.S. offensive against its stronghold in Tal Afar, a city near the Syrian border.

The death toll over the past three days has surpassed 200, with more than 600 wounded.

Sheik Mahmud al-Sumaidaei, a leading Sunni cleric whose group is linked to the country’s insurgency, criticized militants for targeting civilians.

“I call for a meeting … of all the country’s religious and political leaders to take a stand against the bloodshed,” he said during his sermon at Baghdad’s Um al Qura Sunni mosque.

“We don’t need others to come across the border and kill us in the name of defending us,” he said, a reference to foreign fighters who have joined the insurgency under the banner of al Qaeda.

In Tuz Khormato, 130 miles north of Baghdad, authorities said the attacker detonated his explosives-packed car as worshippers flowed out of the Hussainiyat al-Rasoul al-Azam mosque, a Shi’ite Turkmen place of worship.

Police said 12 persons were killed and 23 wounded in the bombing, which also destroyed 10 shops and eight cars.

Police Capt. Mohammed Ahmed said his men exchanged gunfire with another bomber before capturing him as he fled toward a second mosque. The man, who appeared to be in his early 20s, said he was from Saudi Arabia.

Yesterday’s bloodshed began early, when gunmen opened fire on day laborers in an east Baghdad Shi’ite district. Three workers died and a dozen were wounded in the drive-by attack.

In Haswa, 30 miles south of Baghdad, a car bomb exploded near an Iraqi police patrol, killing three officers and wounding four, police said.

Gunmen also stormed the house of the mayor in nearby Iskandariyah, killing him and four bodyguards.

Sheik Fadil al-Lami, the Shi’ite cleric at Baghdad’s Imam Ali mosque, was gunned down as he waited to gas up his car. Authorities also found the bodies of three persons in the same Shi’ite district, including one Iraqi soldier.

American forces raiding insurgent strongholds in the Euphrates River Valley, northwest of Baghdad, called in air strikes on militant positions in a stepped-up effort to retake cities and towns in Anbar province.

A U.S. Marine was killed in the insurgent bastion of Ramadi, the military said.

In the Euphrates region, U.S. jets destroyed an al Qaeda complex in Haditha before dawn. The previous night, warplanes struck an abandoned school in Karabilah, killing nine militants.

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