Iraq bombings, shootings kill 70

BAGHDAD (AP) — Bombings and shootings killed at least 70 people Tuesday — including a US and a British soldier — in a surge of violence as US troops prepare to take back Baghdad’s streets from the gunmen. The dead included 20 Iraqi troops killed in a bus attack in the north.

The American soldier, who was assigned to the 1st Armoured Division, died “due to enemy action” in Anbar province west of Baghdad, the US command said. Officials confirmed that about 45 Shiites have been kidnapped recently in Anbar along the main highway to Syria and Jordan.

In a separate statement, the US said a soldier from the 16th Corps Support Group died the day before in a roadside bombing south of the capital.

The deadliest attack Tuesday occurred when a roadside bomb devastated a bus packed with Iraqi soldiers near Beiji, 250 kilometres north of Baghdad. All 24 people aboard the bus were killed, defence ministry spokesman Mohammad Askari said.

All but four of the dead were Iraqi soldiers, police said. In Baghdad, 14 other people died and 37 were injured when a car bomb exploded in the Karradah district at bank where police and soldiers were picking up their salaries at the first of the month, police Lt. Col. Abbas Mohammad Salman said. The blast set several other cars ablaze and scattered dismembered bodies along the street as bystanders carried limp bodies of the injured to awaiting ambulances.

“A big explosion slammed me four metres into a wall,” said Abdul-Hassan Mohammad, 62, a retired teacher who had gone to the bank to pick up his monthly pension.

“My friends took me to one of their stores, gave me water and asked me to relax … I didn’t even get my pension.” It was the third major attack in less than a week in Karradah, a fashionable, mostly Shiite neighbourhood in central Baghdad and home to several prominent Iraqi Shiite politicians. Last Thursday, 31 people were killed in a massive attack that included rockets, mortars and a car bomb.

On Monday, gunmen dressed in military fatigues abducted 26 people from the offices of the Iraqi-American Chamber of Commerce and a nearby mobile phone company.

The British soldier was fatally wounded in a mortar barrage before dawn Tuesday on a British base in the southern city of Basra, Britain’s defence ministry said.

Britain has lost 115 soldiers in Iraq since the US-led invasion in March 2003.

There was no claim of responsibility for the barrage. But it followed a crackdown by the British on Shiite factions that have infiltrated security forces in the city and threaten the authority of the government in Baghdad.

In Najaf, Gov. Assad Abu Kilal said 45 people from his province had gone missing while travelling by bus through the Sunni-dominated area west of Baghdad. He demanded the government take measures to stop it or he would send his own forces to protect the road.

A senior interior ministry official, Saadoun Abu Ula, confirmed that more than 45 people from the Najaf area had been seized on the highway but said “it’s been going on for the past two weeks — like two or three people snatched per day”.

US officials have also grown alarmed over the rise in Sunni-Shiite violence and the role of sectarian factions.

Those tensions are now considered a greater threat to the government of Prime Minister Nuri Maliki than the Sunni insurgents.

The US military is moving at least 3,700 soldiers from Mosul to Baghdad and is gearing up for a new security operation to take back the streets of the capital from Shiite factions, Sunni insurgents, kidnap gangs, rogue police and freelance gunmen.

US officials have described the Baghdad campaign as a “must-win” for Maliki, whose national unity government has been unable to curb the rise in violence since it took office May 20. American troops will work alongside US-trained Iraqi forces, which have been overwhelmed by the surge in sectarian violence.

As part of the campaign against factions, US troops Tuesday arrested a local Baghdad area representative of Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr, whose Mehdi Army is among the most feared armed groups.

The arrest of Sheikh Ahmed Ashmani was reported by Sadr’s staff, which said 10 other members of the cleric’s movement were detained. There was no confirmation from the US military.

Meanwhile, gunmen ambushed a minibus carrying employees of a power station to their homes in the Shiite district of Sadr City, killing five passengers and wounding six, police said.

A car bomb killed seven people, six of them civilians, Muqdadiyah, about 100 kilometres northeast of Baghdad and a flashpoint of Sunni-Shiite tensions. Three Iraqi soldiers were killed Tuesday evening when a suicide car bomber attacked a checkpoint in the northern city of Tal Afar, the Iraqi army said.

A Sunni Arab politician, Mohammad Shihab Dulaimi, was kidnapped Tuesday in Baghdad, his associates said.

Dulaimi is the spokesman for a coalition of political groups that rejected the results of the December 15 parliamentary elections.

The other victims reported by police died in a series of small-scale shootings and bombings, mostly in Baghdad.

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