A truck bomb parked on a bridge connecting two gates of the Mosul dam exploded Monday, killing a security officer, officials said.
The attack on the dam was the latest reminder of militants’ intent to undermine major infrastructure projects in Iraq, and highlighted continued instability in the northern province of Nineveh. American military officials acknowledge that insurgents have sought shelter in the north after being driven out of Baghdad and other provinces by major summer military offensives. The bombed bridge connects the right and left shores of the Mosul dam. It has been used by vehicles for the last three decades.
“The explosion was terrifying,” said Abu Ali, 50, an employee at the dam. “We were startled since the boom was very loud.”
Reconstruction work on the Mosul dam, which was built in the 1980s, has been one of the major projects undertaken with the nearly $20 billion that the U.S. Congress approved for Iraqi reconstruction in 2003. The money was a one-time allotment and only about $2 billion is left, making extra costs caused by security breaches especially troublesome, said a U.S. official involved in Iraqi reconstruction work.
Repairs are needed on the dam to keep water at a safe level behind the reservoir, the official said. U.S. engineers have expressed concern about the dam bursting, causing massive flooding as far away as Baghdad, about 225 miles south.
Witnesses said the attacker pretended that the vehicle had broken down and left it on the bridge. Police at a checkpoint were suspicious and decided to check his documents. As the man proceeded to another checkpoint, the bomb went off. Police arrested him, according to reports from the scene.
Windows and doors at the dam’s administration building were damaged, Abu Ali said. Security forces immediately closed the road, and hundreds of vehicles waiting on both sides of the bridge were forced to find alternative routes.
Elsewhere in Iraq, government officials and security forces said the transfer of control of the southern province of Babil from U.S. forces to Iraqi authorities would be delayed indefinitely.
“No time and place have been decided yet,” Brig. Gen. Faris Jibouri, acting police chief in Hillah, the provincial capital, told The Times.
In November, a provincial government spokesman and a police spokesman told reporters in Hillah that Dec. 17 or 18 were possible dates for the transfer. And on Monday, a member of Babil’s provincial council said Dec. 16 also had been considered as a possible transfer date.
But U.S. military officials in Baghdad said Monday that Babil was not scheduled “for provincial Iraqi control until June 2008,” and that only the transfer of Basra province -- also in the country’s south -- had been scheduled for December.
“Dec. 16 was one of the possible dates to hand the Babil security file to the Iraqis,” said Murtada Kamil, who heads the legal committee of Babil’s provincial council. “However . . . the issue has to be decided between the central government and the U.S. forces.”
But Brig. Gen. Abd Amir Kamil Abd Alla, the commander of the Iraqi army’s 2nd Brigade, 8th Division, cited a lack of readiness on the part of Iraqi security forces as a reason for the delay.
“The readiness of Iraqi forces . . . still needs a lot, such as forming a special regiment connected to the army for the north of Babil,” Alla said. He added that ensuring adequate security was more important than formally handing over responsibility.
Another factor, Alla said, was the need for the province to choose a new police chief because of the assassination of Maj. Gen. Qais Hamza Mamouri. He was killed this month when a roadside bomb struck his convoy.
Details surrounding Babil’s prospective transfer came a day after Britain formally handed responsibility for oil-rich Basra province to the Iraqi government. British military officials touted the readiness of Basra’s security forces to take charge.
In October, U.S.-led forces handed over security responsibility for Karbala province, west of Babil. Some U.S. military officials have projected that the transfer of responsibility for all of Iraq’s 18 provinces could be completed as early as July 2008.
Although many Iraqis say they feel safer today, compared with even six months ago -- and U.S. military officials say civilian deaths have decreased by 75% within that time -- many here still worry about violence.
On Monday, a bomb targeting a U.S. Army convoy in Baghdad hit two civilian cars instead and killed two people, police said. Four others were injured.
Meanwhile, the presidency of Iraq’s parliament condemned Turkey’s raids against Kurdish guerrillas in northern Iraq on Sunday, saying airstrikes against several Iraqi villages had killed many innocent people.
“We denounce this gross aggression on Iraq’s sovereignty and the principles of good neighborliness,” the presidency of the Iraqi parliament said in a statement. “We call for Turkey . . . to respect international laws which stipulate respecting other countries’ sovereignty and not interfering in other countries’ affairs.”
Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq’s foreign minister, told reporters at a briefing in Baghdad that Turkey’s ambassador to Iraq had been summoned.
“We explained our position to them, and we had some understanding that any such action needs to be coordinated between the two governments,” Zebari said. “But we hope actually that this would be contained and it would not be repeated.”
U.S. officials in Baghdad would not comment on the Turkish airstrikes.
Times staff writers Usama Redha, Saif Rasheed and Saif Hameed in Baghdad and special correspondents in Baghdad, Hillah and Mosul contributed to this report.