Attacks in Shiite areas kill 104 in Iraq |

Attacks in Shiite areas kill 104 in Iraq

BAGHDAD (AP) — Two suicide bombers struck a market in a predominantly Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad on Thursday, killing at least 61 people and wounding 40, police and security officials said. Three suicide car bombers struck a market in another predominantly Shiite town north of Baghdad on Thursday, killing at least 43 people and wounding 86, police and city officials said.

The two attacks occurred at 6 p.m. in the Shaab area in northeastern Baghdad, according to the officials who gave the casualty toll. The neighborhood was one of the first focuses of U.S. and Iraqi soldiers searching for Shiite militants and weapons in a 6-week-old security sweep aimed at stopping the sectarian violence.

It also was the site of a bombing earlier this month that police and the U.S. military said involved the use of two children as decoys. At least eight Iraqis and 28 wounded in that attack, which targeted people cooking food at open-air grills in the street as part of a Shiite Muslim holiday commemorating the anniversary of the Prophet Muhammad’s death.

The earlier car bombs exploded in quick succession near a busy market in the center of Khalis, 50 miles north of Baghdad in volatile Diyala province, where fighting has been raging among Sunni insurgents, Shiite militiamen and U.S. and Iraqi troops.

At his swearing-in ceremony in the heavily fortified Green Zone, new U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker said he was taking over the “most critical foreign policy mission” facing the U.S.

Hours before his address, a bomb planted under a parked car tore through a Baghdad market in the mixed Al-Bayaa neighborhood, killing three and wounding 26.

About the same time, a car bomb exploded near a Shiite mosque in the restive town of Mahmoudiyah, 20 miles south of Baghdad, killing six people and wounding 19.

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.”

Sectarian violence continued in the northwestern city of Tal Afar, when five mortar shells hit a Shiite district, wounding three people, said police Brig. Abdul-Karim al-Jibouri.

The shelling came a day after Shiite 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 people and wounded 185.

U.S. commander Gen. David Petraeus said revenge-seeking police apparently were behind the retribution killings, but he blamed al-Qaida for starting the carnage with a bombing. His comments were the first military confirmation that Shiite-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,” Petraeus told The Associated Press and another news agency in a brief interview.

Petraeus said al-Qaida was trying to provoke a resurgence of violence by Shiite militiamen, who have largely laid low since a U.S.-Iraqi security operation in Baghdad started on Feb. 14.

But he said the security plan remained “generally on track,” citing a drop in the number of bullet-riddled bodies found in the capital and the recent capture of senior officials allegedly connected to the Mahdi Army militia loyal to radical anti-U.S. Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Tal Afar was under curfew Thursday for the second successive day, al-Jibouri said.

Husham al-Hamdani, head of the provincial government’s security committee in nearby Mosul, said local authorities planned a reconciliation meeting between the city’s Sunni and Shiite leaders. He also announced that policemen arrested Wednesday on suspicion of taking part in the revenge killings have been freed. He declined to give a reason.

Iraq’s national traffic police chief, meanwhile, escaped an assassination attempt when gunmen ambushed his convoy in a northern Baghdad district, a police official said.

Two of Gen. Jaafar Kadhim’s guards were killed and two were injured when the gunmen opened up on the convoy in the Sunni stronghold of Azamiyah, said the official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Elsewhere in the capital, a booby-trapped car abandoned on a main road in a western area blew up when police attempted to extract a dead body they found inside.

The blast in the Amil district killed two policemen and wounded six people, including three more policemen, said police officials, also speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

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