- The Washington Times - Monday, February 11, 2008

BAGHDAD (AP) — Car bombs and gunmen struck new U.S. allies, police and civilians yesterday in northern Iraq, killing dozens. The spate of attacks occurred as the American military released a captured diary and another document it says show al Qaeda in Iraq cracking under a Sunni revolt against its brutal tactics.

The violence coincided with a visit by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to Baghdad, where he warned that hard choices face Iraq’s political leaders on how to stabilize the country despite promising new signs of progress toward reconciliation.

The deadliest bombing yesterday was near Balad, 50 miles north of Baghdad, against a checkpoint manned jointly by Iraqi police and members of a so-called “awakening council.”

Iraqi police said a suicide truck bomber targeted a checkpoint manned by U.S.-allied fighters and Iraqi police at the entrance of a bridge in the district of Yathrib on the outskirts of Balad. Security forces opened fire on the driver, but he managed to detonate his payload, devastating a nearby car market and other stores.

Police in the joint coordination center of the surrounding Salahuddin province and hospital officials said 34 persons were killed and 37 others were wounded.

The U.S. military put the casualty toll at 23 killed and 25 wounded, and said a car bomb exploded near an Iraqi checkpoint in a market in Balad, but it did not confirm it was a suicide attack.

It was one of the worst bombings this year amid a recent lull in violence and underscored U.S. warnings that al Qaeda in Iraq remains a serious threat despite military offensives that have severely curtailed its operations.

The explosion occurred hours after suspected al Qaeda-linked insurgents stormed two villages near the Syrian border but were repelled by U.S.-allied fighters and Iraqi security forces in clashes that left at least 22 persons dead.

Sheik Fawaz al-Jarba, the head of the Mosul anti-al Qaeda group, and other officials said the 22 killed included 10 militants and six members of the awakening council in the area, as well as four women and two children.

The U.S. military in northern Iraq confirmed an attack on a compound housing its Sunni allies against al Qaeda in Iraq near Sinjar, about 60 miles west of Mosul, saying five U.S.-allied fighters were killed, five wounded and 10 insurgents were killed.

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