- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 7, 2008

BAGHDAD | A suicide car bomber blasted an outdoor market on Saturday in a northern Iraqi city, killing six people and wounding 54, police and hospital authorities said.

The attack in the mainly Turkomen city of Tal Afar took place one day after a suicide car bomber struck a convoy carrying ex-Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi in Baghdad. The former Pentagon favorite escaped injury, but six people, including five of his bodyguards, were killed.

Saturday’s attack occurred in the same Tal Afar market where a suicide truck bomber killed 28 people and injured 72 last month.

That raises questions about whether Iraqi police are capable of maintaining security in the strategic north - where al Qaeda in Iraq remains active - as the Americans hand over more responsibility for security to Iraqi soldiers and police.

Police said the bomber detonated his explosives-laden car near a crowd of people gathered around a traffic accident in the market, which was crowded with shoppers buying food for the traditional evening meal that breaks the daily fast in the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

“I was walking through the street toward my work when I felt what seemed like a hurricane,” said Asghar Saied, 52, from his hospital bed in Dahok where he was taken with shrapnel wounds and a broken leg.

“People were running in all directions,” he said. “A woman was shouting about her missing child who was blown from her hand by the blast. Despite my injuries, I can’t stop thinking about that woman. Is it a humanitarian or Islamic thing to do during the holy month of Ramadan?”

Mohammed Ahmed, 18, said his 4-year-old brother, Muntadhar, was wounded in the blast.

“He was playing. I hurried to find him after the bombing. But I couldn’t find him at first because he was thrown a long way by the blast. He suffered a broken leg and his white shirt was soaked in red” blood, Mr. Ahmed said.

Elsewhere in the north, Kurdish security forces raided a house in Irbil province, killed a suspected member of an al Qaeda front group and captured a 17-year-old girl wearing an explosives vest, provincial police said.

Irbil is one of the three provinces in the Kurdish self-ruled region, the most peaceful area of the country, although some bombings have occurred there during the war. The Kurds said the 17-year-old was from a Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad, 220 miles to the south.

The number of female bombers has more than tripled in Iraq, from eight in 2007 to 29 this year, according to U.S. military officials.

No group took responsibility for the Tal Afar blast, but suicide attacks are commonly associated with al Qaeda in Iraq, which is under siege in Mosul, 30 miles to the east.

Tal Afar, an agricultural city of about 220,000 people, sits along the main route linking Mosul with the Syrian border, 40 miles to the west. Al Qaeda and other Sunni insurgent groups have used those routes to smuggle weapons and fighters from Syria to Mosul and other northern cities, U.S. officials have said.

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