Tuesday, June 26, 2007

BAGHDAD — A stealthy suicide bomber slipped into a busy Baghdad hotel yesterday and blew himself up in the midst of a gathering of U.S.-allied tribal sheiks — a blow to efforts to forge a front against the extremists of al Qaeda in Iraq. Four of the tribal chiefs were among the 13 victims, police said.

Iraq’s prime minister quickly vowed renewed support for Anbar province’s tribal leaders after the noontime explosion, which also wounded 27 persons and devastated the ground-floor lobby of the high-rise Mansour Hotel.

“We are sure that this crime will not weaken the will of Anbar sheiks,” Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said.

The terrorist strike in the heart of Baghdad, by a killer penetrating layers of security, was one of a wave of suicide and other bombings that killed at least 46 persons across Iraq yesterday — another day of unrelenting violence raising questions about the ability of the reinforced U.S. military to stem the bloodshed here.

In northern Iraq, 13 Iraqi policemen died in what the U.S. military described as a furious bomb and small-arms attack by insurgents on a security post shared by police and U.S. paratroopers.

In Baqouba, north of Baghdad, a week-old U.S.-Iraqi offensive pressed on, street by street, to drive al Qaeda-linked insurgents from the city’s western side. Beginning late Sunday, U.S.-Iraqi forces clashed with insurgents in the central market area, an Iraqi army officer reported.

The U.S. command reported that two U.S. soldiers were killed yesterday in separate attacks in the Baghdad area.

The bomber at the Mansour Hotel, on the west bank of the Tigris River, struck as the lobby bustled with journalists with headquarters at the hotel and other guests, witnesses said.

Among them were a group of sheiks associated with the Anbar Salvation Council, an alliance of Sunni Muslim tribes that have turned against the al Qaeda in Iraq extremists in a bid to drive them from the western province of Anbar.

Police and security officials said a man wearing traditional Arab garb like the sheiks,’ complete with headdress, entered the lobby. He also was wearing a belt of explosives, packed with nails and metal pellets, said these officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity. He approached the sheiks and detonated the bomb.

A police officer based at the hotel identified four tribal leaders killed as former Anbar Gov. Fassal al-Guood, sheik of the Albu Nimr tribe and a Mansour Hotel resident; Sheik Abdul-Azizi al-Fahdawi of the Fahad tribe; and Sheik Tariq Saleh al-Assafi and Col. Fadil al-Nimrawi, both of the Albu Nimr tribe. Three of Sheik al-Guood’s guards also were killed, the police officer said.

The purpose of yesterday’s fatal gathering of tribal chiefs was not clear.

The U.S. command here has pointed repeatedly to the Anbar group and its opposition to al Qaeda as an example for other tribes to follow elsewhere in Iraq. But the Salvation Council reportedly has been riven by disagreements — over how closely to work with the U.S. occupation force, for example.

In a statement denouncing the bombing, the U.N. representative here, Ashraf Qazi, referred to it as a meeting “seeking to resolve differences.”

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