- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 27, 2007

BAGHDAD — Two truck bombs shattered markets in Tal Afar yesterday, killing at least 63 persons and wounding dozens in the second assault in four days on a predominantly Shi’ite Muslim city hit by a resurgence in violence a year after it was held up as a symbol of U.S. success.

After the bombings, suspected Sunni insurgents tried to ambush ambulances carrying the injured out of the northwestern city but were driven off by police gunfire, Iraqi authorities said.

The carnage was the worst bloodshed in a day of attacks across Iraq.

A major Sunni Arab insurgent group reported its military leader was slain outside Baghdad, an assault likely to deepen an increasingly bloody rift between al Qaeda in Iraq and opponents of the terror group in Sunni communities west of the capital.

In Baghdad, a U.S. soldier and an American working as a U.S. government contractor were killed by a rocket attack on the heavily guarded Green Zone, U.S. officials said. Another contract worker suffered serious wounds and three were slightly wounded. A soldier also was wounded.

A U.S. Marine died during combat operations in Anbar province, a hotbed of Sunni Arab insurgents west of Baghdad, the military said.

U.S. soldiers, meanwhile, foiled two suicide truck bombers trying to attack their base in a small town 50 miles west of Baghdad and killed as many as 15 attackers, the military said. It said eight soldiers suffered wounds, all but one of them slight, during the firefight in Karmah.

Iraqi police reported at least 109 persons killed or found dead nationwide. The toll included two elderly sisters — both Chaldean Catholic nuns in the increasingly tense city of Kirkuk — who were stabbed multiple times in what appeared to be a sectarian killing.

Most of the bloodshed in Tal Afar occurred when an explosives-laden truck was detonated by remote control as people gathered to buy flour it was carrying in the center of town, 260 miles northwest of Baghdad. A few minutes earlier, a truck loaded with vegetables blew up near a wholesale market on the city’s north side.

Brig. Abdul Karim al-Jubouri, a spokesman for the provincial police, said the first blast killed at least 62 persons and wounded 150. The other bomb killed one person and wounded four, he said.

Insurgents waiting in cars on Tal Afar’s outskirts tried to intercept ambulances carrying the wounded to hospitals in nearby Mosul, but they fled when police escorts opened fire, said Husham al-Hamdani, head of the security committee in Mosul.

Tal Afar, which is about 90 miles east of the Syrian border, is inhabited mainly by ethnic Turkmen. About 60 percent of the residents are Shi’ite Muslims and the rest Sunni.

The city was an insurgent stronghold until an offensive by U.S. and Iraqi troops in September 2005, when rebel fighters fled into the countryside without a battle. Last March, President Bush cited the operation as an example that gave him “confidence in our strategy.”

But even though U.S. and Iraqi forces put up sand barriers around Tal Afar to limit access, the city has suffered frequent insurgent attacks — yesterday’s was the deadliest since the war started. Among the largest previous attacks were suicide bombings that killed 20 persons on Sept. 18 and 30 more on Oct. 11, 2005.

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