- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 30, 2009

BAGHDAD | Bombs struck a cafe in Baghdad and remote communities in northern Iraq on Saturday, killing at least 18 people.

Iraqi security forces have focused on defending cities after the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from urban areas nearly two months ago. But a recent series of high-profile bombings has killed hundreds in remote areas as well as cities and has raised concerns that Iraqi forces are not up to the task of protecting the population.

Iraqi forces have stepped up security in Baghdad and other cities in Iraq since an Aug. 19 double suicide truck bombing in the Iraqi capital that targeted the foreign and finance ministries. About 100 people were killed.

But attackers were still able to detonate an explosives-laden motorcycle near a cafe in an eastern section of the capital at about 8 p.m. on Saturday, killing at least two civilians and wounding 12, according to police and hospital officials.

Saturday’s deadliest attack came at about 8 a.m. when a suicide truck bomber attacked a small police station in the remote village of Hamad north of Baghdad, killing at least 12 people, including six police, officials from the Iraqi army and police said.

The blast damaged the police station and a number of nearby homes and shops, the officials said. Fifteen people were also wounded in the attack.

Hamad is a primarily Sunni village on the edge of Shirqat, a town between Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit and Mosul, which the U.S. military considers to be the last urban stronghold of al Qaeda in Iraq.

Iraqi police defused a car bomb in the same area three days earlier, said Shirqat’s police chief, Ali al-Jubouri.

Yet another attack targeted a market near Mosul in the city of Sinjar. A parked-truck bomb that exploded at about 10:15 a.m. killed at least four people and wounded 23 others, police said.

A double suicide bombing earlier this month in Sinjar devastated a cafe packed with young people, killing at least 21 people.

The city, which is dominated by members of the Kurdish-speaking Yazidi religious minority, was also hit by four suicide truck bombers nearly simultaneously, killing as many as 500 Yazidis, on Aug. 14, 2007.

Saturday’s attacks came as thousands of mourners gathered in the streets of the holy city of Najaf, south of Baghdad, for the arrival of the body of Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, one of Iraq’s most powerful Shi’ite leaders, who died Wednesday of lung cancer in Iran.

The casket’s arrival ended a three-day mourning tour through Iran, Baghdad and other portions of Iraq’s Shi’ite heartland. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki attended the burial.

Mr. al-Hakim led the Iranian-backed Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, Iraq’s largest Shi’ite party, and was widely revered for helping pave the way for the re-emergence of Shi’ite power after decades of oppression under Saddam’s Sunni-led regime.

The wooden coffin was buried next to Mr. al-Hakim’s brother, Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, who led the party until he was killed in a car bombing in Najaf soon after the brothers returned to Iraq in 2003 after years in exile.

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