A suicide bomber attacked an army recruiting station near a U.S.-Iraqi military base in northern Iraq Monday, killing at least 30 people and wounding 30 others, the U.S. military said. At least 21 more corpses were found many with nooses around their neck and mortar and bomb attacks killed at least four in Baghdad and surrounding towns. The U.S. military said no American troops were hurt in the suicide bombing about 18 miles east of the ancient city of Tal Afar. The bomber struck shortly after noon at the station, killing both civilians and military personnel gathered at the mobile station.
President Bush singled out Tal Afar in a recent speech as a success story for American and Iraqi forces in the drive to quell the insurgency. U.S. soldiers helped secure the area after the attack and treat the wounded, the U.S. military said. Iraqi army Lt. Akram Eid told The Associated Press that many of the wounded were taken to the Sykes U.S. Army base on the outskirts of Tal Afar, which is about 40 miles west of Mosul, Iraq's third largest city.
Details of a joint U.S.-Iraqi Special Operations attack in northeast Baghdad late Sunday continued to filter out. The military, in an updated reported, said the joint operation "killed 16 insurgents and wounded three others during a house-to-house search on an objective with multiple structures.
"They also detained 18 other individuals, discovered a significant weapons cache and secured the release of an Iraqi being held hostage," the statement said. Iraq's Interior Minister, however, reacted angrily, denouncing the operation and rejecting the U.S. account.
"Entering the Mustafa Shiite Mosque and killing worshippers was unjustified and a horrible violation from my point of view," Bayan Jabr said on the Al-Arabiya TV news network. "Innocent people inside the mosque offering prayer at sunset were killed." Iraq police Lt. Col. Falah al-Mohammadawi said 17 people were killed. Seven were members of the Mahdi Army, a Shiite militar, three were members of the Islamic Dawa Patry-Iraq Organization that had an office in the mosque complex and seven were civilians with no affiliation.
Also Monday, Baghdad Gov. Hussein Tahan told reporters the local government had cut ties to the U.S. military and diplomatic mission. "The Baghdad provincial council has decided to stop dealings in regards to services and politics with the coalition forces and the U.S. Embassy because of the cowardly attack on the al-Moustafa mosque," he said without elaboration.
"Harsher measures will be taken in the future to preserve the dignity of the Iraqi citizens," Tahan said. Jawad al-Maliki, a lawmaker from the United Iraqi Alliance, told a news conference that the Shiite bloc had cancelled Monday's session of negotiations to form a new government. "We suspended today's meetings to discuss the formation of the government because of what happened at the al-Moustafa mosque." He said the alliance was expected to decide on Tuesday when to resume the talks.
Associated Press reporters who visited the scene Monday morning said the site of the attack was clearly a neighborhood Shiite mosque complex, although the American military insisted, "no mosques were entered or damaged during this operation."
Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, a U.S. military spokesman, said the operation was only launched after observation of the site convinced the military it was being used as a kidnapping cell.
"In our observation of the place and the activities that were going on, it's difficult for us to consider this a place of prayer," Johnson said. "It was not identified by us as a mosque, though we certainly recognized it as a community gathering center. I think this is frankly a matter of perception."
Baghdad police said at least 22 were killed in the attack after gunmen fired on the joint U.S.-Iraqi patrol from a position in the neighborhood but not from the mosque. Police and representatives of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who holds great sway among poor Shiites in the eastern section of Baghdad, said all those killed were in the complex for evening prayers and none was a gunmen.
Associated Press videotape shot Monday showed crumbling walls and disarray in a compound used as a gathering place for prayer. It was filled with religious posters and strung with banners denouncing the attack. Mourners were gathering for funerals for the dead. Sunday night video showed a tangle of dead male bodies with gunshot wounds on the floor of what was said by the cameraman to be the imam's living quarters, attached to mosque itself. The compound, once used by Saddam Hussein's government, consists of a political party office, the mosque and quarters for the mosque imam.
The tape showed 5.56 mm shell casings scattered about the floor. U.S. forces use that caliber ammunition. A grieving man in white Arab robes stepped among the bodies strewn across the blood-smeared floor. In an audiotape broadcast Monday, Saddam Hussein's chief deputy, who has eluded capture since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq three years ago, purportedly called for Arab leaders to back Iraq's Sunni-backed insurgency.
The tape, which Al-Jazeera television said was made by Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, appeared to be an address to the Arab League summit in Khartoum, Sudan, this week. The voice on the tape said Iraq's Sunni-led insurgency was "the sole legitimate representative of the Iraqi people." It was impossible to determine the tape's authenticity.
Al-Douri was sixth on the U.S. deck of cards that enumerated the most-wanted members of Saddam's regime. He had been Revolutionary Command Council vice chairman and a longtime Saddam confidant. Al-Douri, who is at least 62, was among Saddam's oldest and closest associates. In the capital, a bomb exploded in a bus headed for the Sadr City slum of east Baghdad, killing two passengers and wounding at least four others, police Col. Hassan Jaloob said. The bomb had been left in a bag, he said.
The latest violence came a day after 69 people were reported killed in one of the bloodiest 24-hour periods in weeks. Most of the dead appeared to be victims of the shadowy Sunni-Shiite score-settling that has torn at the fabric of Iraq since Feb. 22 when a Shiite shrine was blown apart in Samarra, north of Baghdad. Thirty victims of the continuing sectarian slaughter most of them beheaded were found dumped on a village road north of Baghdad. At least 16 other Iraqis were killed in a U.S.-backed raid in the capital, reports the AP.