- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 29, 2007

BAGHDAD — Five suicide bombers struck Shi’ite marketplaces in northeast Baghdad and a town north of the capital at nightfall yesterday, killing at least 122 persons and wounding more than 160 in one of Iraq’s deadliest days in years.

The attacks came as a new American ambassador, Ryan Crocker, began his first day on the job.

At least 178 persons in all were killed or found dead yesterday, which marked the end of the seventh week of the latest U.S.-Iraqi military drive to curtail violence in Baghdad and surrounding regions.

Two of the suicide bombers struck a market in the Shaab neighborhood of northeastern Baghdad at 6 p.m., killing at least 79 persons and wounding 81, police and security officials said.

About the same time, three suicide car bombers attacked a market in the town of Khalis north of Baghdad, killing at least 43 persons and wounding 86, according to police and officials in the predominantly Shi’ite town.

The first attacker in Khalis drove his explosives-laden car into the crowded area, followed in five-minute intervals by the other two bombers, who apparently were aiming at rescue crews and onlookers gathering in the aftermath, police said.

Khalis is in volatile Diyala province, where fighting has been raging among Sunni insurgents, Shi’ite militiamen and U.S. and Iraqi troops.

At his swearing-in ceremony in the heavily fortified Green Zone, Mr. Crocker said he was taking over the “most critical foreign policy mission” facing the United States.

Mr. Crocker spoke in fluent Arabic when he told the U.S. Embassy’s Iraqi employees: “You are the heroes of the country, in the true meaning of the word.”

Taking up where his predecessor, Zalmay Khalilzad, left off, the 57-year-old Mr. Crocker warned Shi’ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that his government “must take all the necessary steps to unite the country.”

In Baqouba, an insurgent stronghold 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, 15 masked gunmen sneaked up on four policemen guarding the local government’s agriculture department offices, disarming them and later blowing up the one-story building, police said.

In the northwestern city of Tal Afar, five mortar shells hit a Shi’ite district, wounding three persons, police said.

The shelling came a day after Shi’ite militants and police went on a shooting rampage against Sunnis in the city, killing as many as 70 men execution-style. The killings were triggered by twin truck bombings there the previous day that killed 80 persons and wounded 185.

U.S. commander Gen. David Petraeus said revenge-seeking police apparently were behind the retribution killings, but he blamed al Qaeda for starting the carnage with a bombing. His comments were the first military confirmation that Shi’ite-dominated police forces were among the militants who went on the rampage.

“We’re still trying to get the exact details of what happened but it appears that there clearly were some kind of retribution killings by police,” Gen. Petraeus told the Associated Press and another news agency in a brief interview.

Tal Afar was under curfew yesterday for the second successive day.

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