Suicide bomber kills 16 people in Iraq
A suicide bomber Thursday detonated explosives among a group of men seeking police jobs, killing 16 people crowded around a recruiting station in northwestern Iraq despite warnings of an attack.
The blast in the town of Sinjar, about 400 kilometers (240 miles) northwest of Baghdad, occurred about three weeks after U.S. and Iraqi forces launched an offensive to drive al-Qaida in Iraq out of Mosul, the largest city in northern Iraq and the terror movement's last major urban stronghold.
No group claimed responsibility for the blast, but suicide operations are the signature attack of al-Qaida. The blast could have been aimed at relieving pressure on al-Qaida fighters in Mosul, 120 kilometers (75 miles) to the east.
The mayor of Sinjar, Dakhil Qassim, said security services had received tips that police recruiting centers in the area would be targeted and had issued a warning the day before urging people to stay away from them.
But jobs in the police and army are so prized in parts of the country where unemployment runs high that a large crowd of desperate jobseekers showed up anyway, hoping to be accepted as recruits, Qassim said.
The dead included 14 would-be recruits and two policemen, Qassim said. Another 14 people were wounded he added. The Interior Ministry announced that the station commander had been relieved for failing to protect the volunteers.
Sinjar is dominated by Yazidis, a small Kurdish-speaking sect whose members are considered blasphemers by Muslim extremists. The US military blamed al-Qaida for the Aug. 14 bombings that devastated nearby villages and killed some 500 people. The Sinjar bombing was among a string of attacks Thursday against Iraqi security forces, most of which appeared to be the work of al-Qaida.
In Ouja, a town near Tikrit where Saddam Hussein is buried, gunmen hiding in a water tanker opened fire on police and pro-U.S. Sunni fighters at a checkpoint, police said.
Security forces returned fire, killing a dozen gunmen. The driver blew himself up with an explosive belt, police said. To the north, a suicide bomber driving a police vehicle blasted Iraqi commandos in Mosul, killing three troopers and wounding nine other people, according to battalion commander Capt Aziz Latif.
In Baghdad, assailants hurled grenades at a minibus carrying Iraqi army recruits, killing two men and wounding five other people, including a woman bystander, a policeman said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release the information.
Despite ongoing attacks, death tolls among Iraqi civilians and US troops have dropped sharply in Iraq this month. An average of 17 Iraqis have been killed by violence each day this month as of Wednesday, according to an Associated Press tally. That's the lowest level since December 2005.
At least 20 US troop deaths have been recorded so far this month, putting May on track to be the lowest monthly toll this year, an AP count shows.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki touted his government's security successes and economic progress at a UN conference in
"Iraq has achieved major success in the battle against terrorism with the support of the international community," al-Maliki said. Al-Maliki has called on neighboring countries to forgive debt and compensation payments, saying they are hindering Iraq's road to recovery, despite the drop in violence.
But Iraq received no firm guarantees from Arab states, most of which did not send any senior officials to the conference. Sunni-led Arab governments remain deeply suspicious of Iraq's mostly Shiite leadership, fearing its ties to Shiite-dominated Iran. US officials have frequently accused Iran of jeopardizing peace in Iraq by supplying weapons to anti-US Shiite militias. Iran denies the allegation.
On Thursday, the government announced that Iraq's Shiite vice president discussed security cooperation with Iranian officials during a previously unannounced visit to Iran, the government said Thursday.
The visit by Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi, which took place during the last two days, was private, the government press office said.
Nevertheless, he met with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, newly elected parliament speaker Ali Larijani and top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili to discuss "security matters," the government statement said.
Also Thursday, the head of Iraq's biggest Shiite party declared his opposition to many of the US proposals during ongoing negotiations on a U.S.-Iraq security pact.
Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim said in a statement on his party's Web site that some U.S. proposals "violate Iraq's national sovereignty." Al-Hakim, who has close ties to Iran, did not specify which points he opposed, and US officials have declined to comment on the negotiations. The agreement is supposed to be finished by July to replace the UN mandate authorizing the US-led military mission in Iraq.