U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made an unannounced visit to Iraq Friday, stopping in the mostly Sunni Arab town of Mosul to call for all Iraqis to participate in upcoming elections. Rice's visit follows a day that left 42 people dead in bombings at a Baghdad restaurant favored by police and an army recruiting center to the north.
On the same day, Iraqi troops along the Iranian border found 27 decomposing bodies, unidentified victims of what may be another massacre by sectarian death squads.
"I want to talk about the importance of reaching across sectarian lines," Rice said on her unannounced visit to the northern Iraqi city.
In the deadliest bombing in Baghdad since Sept. 19, a suicide bomber blew himself up in a restaurant Thursday morning when officers usually stop in for breakfast. Police Maj. Falah al-Mohammedawi said 35 officers and civilians died and 25 were wounded.
Al-Qaida in Iraq claimed in an Internet posting that it staged the attack in retaliation for U.S. and Iraqi operations near the Syrian border. Earlier, it claimed responsibility for Wednesday night's deadly hotel bombings in neighboring Jordan, linking those blasts to the conflict in Iraq.
Samiya Mohammed, who lives near the restaurant, said she rushed out when she heard the explosion.
"There was bodies, mostly civilians, and blood everywhere inside the place. This is a criminal act that only targeted and hurt innocent people having their breakfast," she said.
There were no Americans in the area, she said. "I do not understand why most of the time it is the Iraqis who are killed," she added.
The blast was the most deadly since a car bomb ripped through a market in a poor Shiite Muslim neighborhood on the eastern outskirts of Baghdad, killing at least 30 people and wounding 38 on Sept. 19.
Thursday's other big attack came in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, 80 miles (130 kilometers) north of the capital, where a car bomb blew up in the middle of a group of men outside an Iraqi army recruiting center. Seven were killed and 13 wounded, police Capt. Hakim al-Azawi said.
The men were former officers during Saddam's regime, Azawi said.
Last week, Iraq's defense minister invited officers of Saddam's army up to the rank of major to enlist in the new Iraqi army. It was an overture to disaffected Sunni Arab ex-soldiers, many of whom joined the insurgency after the Americans abolished the Iraqi armed forces in 2003, the AP reminds.
In another sign of the country's sectarian and criminal violence, Iraqi soldiers found the decomposing bodies of 27 people near Jassan, a town close to the border with Iran, Col. Ali Mahmoud said.
They were not immediately identified, but the area is a known dumping ground for bodies. Officials suspect death squads from the Shiite majority, the Sunni minority and criminal gangs are responsible for the killings.
At least 653 bodies have been found since Iraq's interim government was formed April 28, according to an Associated Press count.