Up to 36 Die in Suicide Funeral Bombing in Iraq

Times Staff Writer

Nearly 50 Iraqis were killed Wednesday in a day of clashes and bombings across the nation, including a suicide attack at a Shiite Muslim funeral in which three dozen mourners died.

It was the most violent day of insurgent attacks since the Dec. 15 elections for a new government.

Sectarian tensions between Iraq's ascendant Shiite majority and embittered Sunni Arab minority overlaid much of the day's bloodshed.

In the deadliest incident, a suicide bomber blew himself up in a crowd of mourners at the funeral of a young Shiite man killed Tuesday in an assassination attempt on his uncle, a city council member in Muqdadiya, about 60 miles northeast of Baghdad. As many as 36 people were killed and 43 injured, security officials said. The politician, Mohammed Ahmed Bageh, a physician at a local pediatric hospital and head of the local branch of the Islamic Dawa Party, was not at the funeral.

"All of a sudden there was a big explosion," said Ismail Alwan Abed, an elderly man recovering from the blast at a hospital in Baqubah, the provincial capital 20 miles from the site of the bombing. "I saw bodies scatter into the air."

Insurgent attacks had dropped off markedly around the time of the parliamentary elections, which most Sunnis participated in at the urging of their leaders.

But since preliminary results made it clear that Sunnis had fared relatively poorly in the vote, the insurgency has picked up with heightening vigor, targeting U.S. and Iraqi security forces, government officials and political figures.

In the capital Wednesday, gunmen assassinated Rahim Ali Sudani, a ranking official with the Oil Ministry, and his son as they drove through Amariya, a western neighborhood known for its sympathy to insurgents.

Meanwhile, traffic ground to a halt as police cordoned off and searched the central Baghdad neighborhood where the sister of Interior Minister Bayan Jabr had been kidnapped the previous day. As dusk fell, mortar fire and explosions continued to sound throughout the beleaguered capital, which has been hit by a gasoline crunch largely because of sabotage and truckers' refusal to travel the perilous roads between Baghdad and the country's main refinery in Baiji.

On a highway 25 miles north of Baghdad, gunmen attacked a convoy of gasoline tankers headed to the capital, firing grenades and machine guns.

At least three of the 60 trucks being escorted by Iraqi security forces were destroyed, and 15 were damaged, said Lt. Ali Hussein of the Iraqi highway patrol.

U.S. forces sealed off the area; there was no immediate word on casualties.

At the funeral for Bageh's nephew in Muqdadiya, an agricultural town with a mixed population of Sunnis and Shiites, mourners said explosions and sporadic gunfire occurred in the minutes before the suicide bombing.

The attack sparked panic in the town, in a sleepy part of Diyala province known mostly for its citrus groves. Ambulances and emergency vehicles, some of them from Baqubah, rushed to the scene, taking the wounded and dead to hospitals, said Brig. Gen. Qassem Wadi Ahmad, the local police chief. Police collected the bomber's remains for examination.

Bageh's nephew, who also served as a bodyguard for his uncle, was slain when gunmen ambushed the city councilman, killing his son and wounding another bodyguard, said Brig. Gen. Ibrahim Abed Mohammed of the Iraqi national guard.

Muqdadiya security officials reached by telephone said that about a month ago, a suicide bomber drove an explosives-packed vehicle into a funeral tent set up for mourners to pay their respects to the deceased's family.

"Those terrorists have no limits," said Ali Adib, a colleague of Bageh in the Islamic Dawa Party and a member of parliament. "They attack in the most sacred and forbidden areas, like a graveyard."

The decades-old Islamic Dawa Party is among the top three groups in the coalition of Shiite organizations that dominates Iraq's post-invasion government and that won a commanding bloc of seats in the December elections for a four-year government.

Wednesday's attacks followed a car bombing Monday in Baqubah that targeted a bus transporting Iraqi army recruits, killing at least seven people. "These explosions are to sow confusion among people," Tareq Khamis, an aide to Diyala's governor, said by telephone.

Explosions rocked many parts of Baghdad on Wednesday. A car bomb targeting a police station in the mostly Shiite northern district of Kadhimiya killed five people, including three policemen, injured 12 and set nearly two dozen cars ablaze.

A remotely detonated car bomb in the Dora neighborhood killed at least three people, including a member of the Interior Ministry's elite Maghawir Special Forces.

An hourlong gunfight erupted between insurgents and police commandos in the Ghazaliya neighborhood, leaving one person dead and 17 injured. At least five other roadside bombs exploded in the city, causing at least five injuries and damage to surrounding vehicles.

In the northern city of Kirkuk, two people were killed and two injured in a roadside bombing on the city's main street.

The violence and explosions come as Iraq's politicians attempt to broker a deal for the four-year government, the first permanent Iraqi administration since the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime in April 2003.

Hussein is now on trial, accused of crimes against humanity stemming from his alleged retribution against the townspeople of Dujayl after an assassination attempt against him in 1982.

In a lengthy television interview Wednesday, the lead prosecutor in the case said witnesses against Hussein and his deputies would be allowed to bring their own lawyers to court, as protection against insults and abuse by defendants and defense lawyers, something he said the court had failed to provide.

"Protection of defendants, witnesses and plaintiffs is a job for the chief judge to maintain," said Jaafar Mousawi. "It is also his duty to protect and defend witnesses from any verbal insult or attack that might come from the defendants against any of the witnesses, as happened before."

He also said the Anfal military campaign, in which Kurdish villages were destroyed and as many as 100,000 Iraqi Kurds were killed in the late 1980s, some in poison-gas attacks, will be the next case in which Hussein and former regime leaders will face charges.

Mousawi, speaking live on state-owned Al Iraqiya television, said the trial had wreaked havoc on his life. His driver and bodyguard have been killed, he said. His daughter has stopped attending university and his son has stopped going to high school, out of fear for their lives.

"However," he said, "I will continue doing my duty even if it leads to the termination of my life."

Times staff writers Caesar Ahmed and Shamil Aziz and special correspondents in Baqubah, Kirkuk and Taji contributed to this report.

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