- The Washington Times - Monday, July 17, 2006

BAGHDAD — A suicide bomber detonated explosives inside a cafe packed with Shi’ites in northern Iraq yesterday, killing 26 persons and injuring 22, an Iraqi general said. Also, gunmen seized a top Oil Ministry official, the second major kidnapping in as many days.

In the south, a British soldier was killed and another was wounded during a raid against a terrorist suspect in Basra, the British military said. British troops arrested a top Shi’ite militia leader in the city, Iraqi police said, but it was not clear whether the two events were linked.

The suicide attack occurred about 8:30 p.m. in the outdoor market in Tuz Khormato, a mostly Turkomen city 130 miles north of Baghdad, Maj. Gen. Anwar Mohammed Amin said.

The blast collapsed the ceiling of the one-story cafe, burying many of the victims, witnesses said. Hours afterward, rescuers were still sifting through the debris looking for the dead or injured. Authorities used mosque loudspeakers to appeal for blood donations.

One of Iraq’s main ethnic groups, Turkomen follow both the Sunni and Shi’ite traditions of Islam. Gen. Amin said Shi’ites favored the cafe because it was near a Shi’ite mosque. But friction exists among Iraq’s Turkomen and Kurdish populations, and the motive for the attack was not clear.

In Baghdad, gunmen seized Adel Kazzaz, director of the North Oil Co., shortly after he left the Oil Ministry in eastern Baghdad, ministry spokesman Assem Jihad said. They beat his bodyguards and whisked him away, Mr. Jihad said.

The government-owned North Oil Co. runs Iraq’s oil fields around the northern city of Kirkuk, and Mr. Kazzaz was in the capital for a meeting with ministry officials.

The northern fields have been plagued for years by sabotage attacks on pipelines and other infrastructure. Oil exports were restored last month after a long delay but halted again last week and were not expected to resume soon.

The high-profile kidnapping came one day after gunmen abducted the head of Iraq’s National Olympic Committee and 30 others. Six were set free yesterday in eastern Baghdad, left blindfolded and unharmed, Iraq’s Sport Journalist Union said.

There was no word on the other hostages, including the Olympic National Committee chairman, Ahmed al-Hijiya.

The British military said the British soldier was mortally wounded during a raid to arrest terror suspects in a northern Basra neighborhood. British spokesman Maj. Charlie Burbridge said that the operation involved a significant number of troops as well as helicopters and armored personnel carriers and that two suspects were detained. He gave no further information.

In Basra, police officials said British troops had arrested Sajid Badir, leader of the Shi’ite-based Mahdi Army in the city. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because of fears of retaliation by the militia group, which wields considerable power and has infiltrated the police.

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