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Blasts kill dozens in Baghdad area

Times Staff Writer

The unrelenting carnage across Iraq continued Sunday, with at least 49 people killed in explosions, shootings and other violence, a day after as many as 150 people died in the suicide bombing of a northern Iraqi marketplace.

In Sunday’s deadliest incident, a bus ferrying 45 Iraqi police recruits from the western city of Fallouja to a training center west of Baghdad exploded near Abu Ghraib, killing at least 18 and injuring the others, Iraqi police said.

The bus had been rigged with explosives, authorities said.

Hussein Juma, a relative of one of the victims, said he thought militants from the group Al Qaeda in Iraq booby-trapped the truck to kill the recruits “because they became soldiers to save us from Qaeda and the terrorists.”

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The U.S. military has pointed to fewer bombings in Baghdad as a sign that the addition of 28,500 American troops in the last few months is beginning to have an effect. But two bombings on Sunday resulted in the deaths of as many as eight people in Baghdad’s central district of Karada, a mostly Shiite Muslim area that has been considered one of the city’s safest neighborhoods. A third Baghdad bombing resulted in three more deaths.

Police also reported finding 29 bullet-riddled bodies in locations across the capital.

The bombings in Baghdad came a day after the massive suicide blast tore apart a crowded market area in Amerli, an ethnically mixed village of Arabs, Kurds and Turkmens about 100 miles north of the capital. It appeared to be the deadliest attack of the year in Iraq.

In north Baghdad on Sunday, gunmen opened fire on the motorcade of an Iraqi police official, killing him and two of his guards. Soon after, gunmen in the same area killed an Iraqi army colonel.

Three men were killed at home in separate shootings in the west Baghdad neighborhoods of Mansour, Jamiya and Qadisiya.

In the western neighborhood of Ghazaliya, which is mostly Sunni Arab, gunmen stormed a house late Sunday, kidnapped a family of four and dumped their strangled bodies 15 minutes later on a nearby highway. In Karada, gunmen opened fire on a minibus, killing two and injuring two.

In east Baghdad, U.S. forces were seen firing at a car speeding toward them, killing six passengers, according to police. The military said it could not confirm the report late Sunday.

The Amerli bombing killed at least 150 and injured 250, police said Sunday.

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Rescuers were still treating the wounded and recovering bodies from the crater left by the blast.

Some families led funeral processions to the holy southern city of Najaf, while others buried their dead nearby, putting up more than 100 black funeral banners in their yards memorializing the dead as martyrs. Survivors were weeping, but also angry, said Sheik Hadi Bayyati, who said the attack marked Saturday as “the day that history will always remember with black sorrow.”

“Many of the citizens are angry because of the cowardly act that hit their city, and the government holds the full responsibility for this bombing,” Bayyati said. “Any government that cannot protect itself and protect the citizens is a useless government.”

In a joint statement Sunday, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, condemned the Amerli attack as “another sad example of the nature of the enemy and their use of indiscriminate violence to kill innocent citizens.”

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“The government of Iraq, the Iraqi army, police, and medical personnel responded swiftly and courageously in the wake of this tragedy. We will continue to assist them and work closely in the investigation to find those who perpetrated this crime and bring them to justice,” the statement said.

Crocker announced that authorities had found the bodies of two Iraqi employees of the U.S. Embassy who were kidnapped in May. The married couple were kidnapped and killed by “violent extremists,” Crocker said in a statement.

A group identifying itself as the Islamic State of Iraq had claimed responsibility for the attack in a website posting May 31 that said the couple’s throats were slit.

Crocker said the killings were still being investigated.

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“We will work with the government of Iraq to relentlessly pursue those responsible,” Crocker said.

The U.S. military announced Sunday that an American soldier was killed while on patrol in southeast Baghdad on Friday. The U.S. military death toll in Iraq since the 2003 invasion has reached 3,606, according to icasualties.org, which tracks deaths in Iraq.

Meanwhile, Iraq’s parliament announced plans to extend its workweek to six days from three until the end of the month, when its recess begins.

The longer workweeks could be a sign that parliament is close to passing a much-anticipated oil law, the most important of several benchmarks that Washington says are crucial to proving that Iraqi politicians can overcome religious and sectarian divisions to pass laws beneficial to all Iraqis.

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Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s Cabinet submitted a new draft of the law to the parliament’s oil and gas and legal committees Sunday.

Several powerful blocs are still boycotting the Iraqi government, including legislators loyal to anti-U.S. Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr and several Sunni members of Maliki’s Cabinet. Although both groups are in negotiations to return, key members had not committed late Sunday.

The U.S. military received reports last week, based on Iraqi media, that Sadr had left Iraq for Iran, a spokesman for Petraeus said.

Sheik Salah Ubaidi, a Sadr spokesman in the southern holy city of Najaf, said Sunday that Sadr was taking time off to concentrate on worship during the next three Muslim holy months, the last of which is Ramadan. Ubaidi would not confirm or deny whether Sadr was in Iran.

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“It’s irrelevant if he is now outside or inside Iraq. He is dedicating himself to worship,” Ubaidi said.

Sadr, who commands legions of followers and the Al Mahdi militia, disappeared in February, on the eve of the U.S. troop buildup, and resurfaced in May. Now he’s facing criticism from Maliki and pressure as U.S. troops raid Al Mahdi strongholds in Sadr City, Baghdad’s overwhelmingly Shiite neighborhood.

“It may well be that in order to save himself and keep the damage limited from the surge as long as it lasts, he returns to Iran to lie low,” said Joost Hiltermann, Middle East director of the International Crisis Group, a think tank.

But Sadr’s departure would not signal a lull in sectarian violence, Hiltermann said.

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“You see a lot more violence between U.S. forces and Sadrists, wherever they may be -- in the south and Baghdad. We’re entering a period of increased confrontation,” Hiltermann said. “His people still take his orders.”

On Sunday, a crowd of at least 2,000 demonstrated in Baghdad’s Amil neighborhood to protest the detention of a Sadr loyalist, Sheik Jassim Hassnawi.

molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com

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Times staff writers Raheem Salman, Saif Hameed and Wail Alhafith and special correspondents in Baghdad, Fallouja, Kirkuk and Samarra contributed to this report.


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