- The Washington Times - Monday, April 23, 2007

BAGHDAD — Nine U.S. soldiers were killed and 20 wounded yesterday in a suicide car bombing against a patrol base northeast of the capital in Diyala province, a volatile area that has been the site of fierce fighting, the military said.

The attack came on a day when insurgents struck across Iraq, carrying out seven other bombings that killed at least 48 persons.

Of the 20 wounded in the attack on Task Force Lightning in Diyala, 15 soldiers were treated and returned to duty while five others were evacuated to a medical facility for further care, the military said. An Iraqi civilian was also wounded.

It was the second bold attack against a U.S. base north of Baghdad in just over two months and was notable for its use of a suicide car bomber.

On Feb. 19, insurgents struck a U.S. combat post in Tarmiyah, about 30 miles north of Baghdad, killing two soldiers and wounding 17 in what the military called a “coordinated attack.”

Militants have mostly used hit-and-run ambushes, roadside bombs or mortars on U.S. troops and stayed away from direct assaults on fortified military compounds.

Also yesterday, U.S. officials signaled that they might reconsider putting a three-mile concrete barrier around a Sunni Arab neighborhood in Baghdad after Iraq’s struggling prime minister came under pressure from Sunnis and ordered the project halted.

Plans for the separation barrier to protect the Azamiyah neighborhood were in doubt after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki criticized the idea of creating “gated communities” to separate Baghdad’s sectarian neighborhoods.

Speaking during a tour of Sunni-led Arab countries, the Shi’ite Muslim prime minister said he did not want the 12-foot-high wall planned for Azamiyah to be seen as dividing the capital’s sects.

Iraq’s Sunni Arab minority dominated during Saddam Hussein’s reign, and its members remain deeply distrustful of Shi’ite intentions and provide the backbone of the Iraqi insurgency.

Shi’ite militias, in turn, have been attacking Sunni neighborhoods in retaliation for insurgent attacks on their own communities.

Azamiyah’s Sunni residents have been the target of frequent mortar attacks by Shi’ite militants, but hundreds of people in the district took to the streets to protest against the wall that they said would make their neighborhood “a big prison.”

The new U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan C. Crocker, defended the barrier plan yesterday, saying it was an effort to protect the Sunni community from surrounding Shi’ite areas, not to segregate it.

Holding his first press conference since taking his post, Mr. Crocker said security measures were implemented in coordination with the Iraqi government. “Obviously, we will respect the wishes of the government and the prime minister,” he said, although he did not say construction would halt.

Mr. al-Maliki said he would not allow “a separation wall,” but then he said that the subject would be discussed and that he would not rule out all barriers, such as barbed wire.

Iraq’s chief military spokesman indicated that some type of barrier would go up, saying Mr. al-Maliki was responding to exaggerated reports about the wall.

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