- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 15, 2008

BAGHDAD (AP) — Car bombs and a suicide attacker struck crowded areas in Baghdad and former insurgent strongholds to the north and west of the capital today, killing nearly 60 people and breaking a recent lull in violence in the predominantly Sunni areas.

The attacks were a deadly reminder of the threat posed by suspected Sunni insurgents even as clashes between Shiite militia fighters and U.S.-Iraqi forces continued elsewhere.

The U.S. military condemned the bombings and said they appeared to have been carried out by al-Qaeda in Iraq.

The first blast occurred in Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, when a car parked in front of a restaurant exploded just before noon across the street from the central courthouse and other government offices.

Many of the victims were people visiting the government offices, petition writers helping people with documents in stalls outside or the occupants of cars that were caught in the explosion as they passed through the area, witnesses said. Several cars and minibuses were set ablaze, while more than 10 shops and the restaurant were heavily damaged.

One survivor described a huge fire that sent black smoke billowing into the sky and left charred bodies inside their cars.

“I was on my way to the government office when a big explosion occurred nearby,” said the witness, who would only identify himself by his nickname Abu Ali. “As I approached the site, I saw cars on fire, burned bodies and damaged shops damaged with shattered glass everywhere.”

At least 40 people were killed and 70 wounded in the blast, according to hospital officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to release the information.

The U.S. military in northern Iraq gave a lower casualty toll of 20 local citizens killed and 35 wounded based on initial reports.

AP Television News footage showed many of the bodies covered in crisp white sheets in the main hospital’s courtyard while the emergency room inside was overwhelmed with the wounded.

Another parked car bomb exploded near a kebab restaurant at about 12:30 p.m. in Ramadi, killing at least 14 people and wounding 14 others, police Lt. Col. Jubair al-Dulaimi said. He said the attack occurred in an area known as the Five Kilometers area for its distance west of the city center.

Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, is the capital of Anbar province and has largely been sealed off by checkpoints.

Like Baqouba, the area has seen a sharp decline in violence in recent months as tribal leaders have joined forces with the Americans against al-Qaeda in Iraq.

The U.S. military said overall attacks in Diyala province have dropped more than 76 percent since June 2007.

The relative calm in predominantly Sunni areas has coincided with a burst of Shi’ite violence as militia fighters clashed with U.S. and Iraqi forces in Baghdad and the oil-rich southern city of Basra.

U.S. soldiers backed by an airstrike killed six militants earlier today after coming under small-arms fire during an operation in the Sudayrah area near Baghdad’s main Shi’ite militia stronghold of Sadr City, the military said.

Iraqi police in the area claimed that two boys were among those killed in the airstrike, but the military said no civilian casualties were reported.

Associated Press writers Hamid Ahmed and Sinan Salaheddin contributed to this report.

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