- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 8, 2007

TUZ KHORMATO, Iraq — A suicide bomber detonated a truck full of explosives in the market of a Shi’ite farm town yesterday, killing more than 100 people and leveling nearby mud-brick buildings, police said.

Separately, eight American troops and a British soldier were killed in fighting over two days.

The blast north of Baghdad, hours after a smaller suicide bombing in another Shi’ite village killed more than 20, suggested Sunni militants are regrouping to carry out attacks in regions farther away from the capital, where security is thinner.

The morning explosion ripped through a market in Armili. Farmers’ pickup trucks drove victims 30 miles to the nearest hospital, in Tuz Khormato.

Authorities and residents spent hours digging bodies out of the rubble of two dozen shops and houses, police said. Accounts of the final toll varied, hampered by the difficulty of the search and the town’s remote location.

Abdullah Jabara, the deputy governor of Salahuddin province, told state-run Iraqiya television that 115 persons died — nearly three-quarters of them women, children and elderly. He blamed al Qaeda.

Col. Sherzad Abdullah of the Tuz Khormato police also said 115 were killed and about 200 wounded. Tuz Khormato’s police chief, Col. Abbas Mohammed Amin, put the toll at 150 dead.

Armili, 100 miles north of Baghdad, is a town of 26,000, mostly Shi’ites from Iraq’s Turkmen ethnic minority. Residents said tensions were constantly high with Sunni Arabs who dominate the surrounding villages. Iraqi security presence is scant in the remote corner of Salahuddin province.

The night before, a suicide bomber detonated a booby-trapped car at a funeral in the Shi’ite Kurdish village of Zargosh, in neighboring Diyala province, police said.

The blast killed 22 persons and wounded 17, said the head of the Diyala provincial council, Ibrahim Bajilan, and a police official in the provincial capital of Baqouba, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press. The village is home to about 30 Kurdish families who had been expelled under Saddam Hussein and returned after his fall.

In Baghdad — where the number of attacks has fallen in recent weeks — a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-packed minibus near an Iraqi army patrol in the eastern Zayouna district yesterday, killing five soldiers and a civilian, police said.

The U.S. military in Iraq, beefed up by new deployments this year, is conducting an intensified security crackdown in the capital aimed at bringing calm to Baghdad. At the same time, U.S. forces are fighting south of Baghdad and to the north, around Baqouba, aiming to uproot al Qaeda fighters and other Sunni insurgents who use the areas as staging ground for attacks in the capital.

American commanders said many insurgent leaders fled Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, just ahead of the U.S. assault there.

“Because of the recent American military operations, terrorists found a good hide-out in Salahuddin province, especially in outlying areas where there aren’t enough military forces,” said Ahmed al-Jubouri, an aide of the province’s governor.

The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus, said he expected Sunni extremists to try to “pull off a variety of sensational attacks and grab the headlines to create a ‘mini-Tet.’ ”

He was referring to the 1968 Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Tet offensive that undermined public support for the Vietnam War in the United States.

The U.S. military yesterday announced the deaths of eight U.S. service members in combat, most in the Baghdad area.

Four soldiers were killed in two roadside bomb attacks on their patrols, both in the capital, the military said. A U.S. soldier and an Iraqi interpreter were killed Friday when an “explosively formed penetrator” exploded near their patrol in southeastern Baghdad. Explosively formed penetrators are high-tech bombs that the United States says are provided by Iran, a charge denied by Tehran.

On Thursday, two Marines were killed in western Anbar province and a soldier died in Baghdad, the military said. Another soldier died Friday of a cause not related to combat and his death is under investigation, the military said.

In the far south of Iraq, British troops came under heavy attack by militants in Basra. One soldier was killed, the British military said yesterday.

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