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Tribal checkpoint bombed in Iraq

Times Staff Writer

A suicide bomber attacked a checkpoint near a planned meeting site of tribal leaders Sunday in a village north of the capital, killing at least three people and injuring 13, the U.S. military said.

Local police put the death toll higher, saying at least five people were killed, mostly young men who had volunteered to defend the area as part of the Taji Tribes Awakening Council, a partnership formed in recent months between tribal leaders and U.S. and Iraqi security forces.

About 11 a.m., two men detonated a truck loaded with explosives at the checkpoint in Jurf al Milih, about 10 miles north of Baghdad, according to a military statement. It said the men were attempting to kill a tribal sheik. Witnesses said the truck was loaded with half a ton of explosives.

Kareem Zobaiee, 28, who lives nearby, said he later saw the bodies of the victims at the checkpoint, many of them dismembered by the explosion.

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The council, led by Sheik Nair Tamim, meets every few days in members’ homes, setting up nearby checkpoints staffed by volunteers, a council member said.

Maj. Randall Baucom said the council, similar to those formed in Al Anbar province in the west, gathered to oppose Sunni insurgent groups including Al Qaeda in Iraq. He said the bombing followed a meeting in the village Saturday attended by U.S. forces, tribal sheiks and Shiite leaders.

“There are definitely discussions going on that they would like to reconcile with the coalition and the Iraqi government,” Baucom said.

Word has spread among local Sunni tribes that the council is spying for the Americans and that the U.S. arms its members. Baucom said U.S. and Iraqi forces were not arming council members, “but we’re not disarming them, either.”

He said Sunday’s bombing and other recent attacks on Sunni sheiks who have partnered with U.S. forces “only furthers their resolve to quickly reconcile with the government and the coalition to get rid of this violence in their areas.”

Nasir Ani, a member of the largest Sunni bloc in parliament, said it would take time for residents in Sunni militant strongholds to challenge insurgents’ authority. But Rashid Azzawi, a member of the same parliamentary bloc, said Sunni auxiliary police groups were springing up in south Baghdad and south of the city as families lose children to militant attacks.

“When people start to lose their sons and their relatives, they want to defend themselves,” Azzawi said. “A lot of Iraqi people’s sons were killed by these groups. By doing this, they are isolating themselves more and more from the Iraqi people.”

Bombers targeted a group of tribal leaders from Al Anbar province June 25 as they were meeting at Baghdad’s Mansour Melia Hotel, killing 13 people, including some of the sheiks. Two more sheiks were assassinated the next day by gunmen in Baghdad, and others have been killed for cooperating with security forces.

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“We are wanted men [to insurgent groups] when we are activists for reconciliation or peace,” said Younadam Kanna, a Christian member of parliament who helped create a national reconciliation commission that began efforts Sunday to enlist local leaders, including tribal sheiks, to help fight insurgents.

“It seems we need some very brave people, ready for sacrifice, to bring peace to Iraq,” Kanna said.

Kanna said he didn’t think recent attacks would dissuade tribal leaders from working with U.S. forces.

Some analysts have said the U.S. troop buildup in Baghdad that began six months ago has forced insurgents out of the capital and into villages such as Jurf al Milih.

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But at a news conference in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone on Sunday, U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Mark Fox contended that routing insurgents in the capital would sap their strength in the provinces, particularly northeast of Baghdad where they have engaged in such bombing attacks as one on July 7 that killed about 150 people in Amerli, an ethnically mixed village of Arabs, Kurds and Turkmens.

“Baghdad is the center of gravity for the overall security situation in Iraq, so that’s where the focus has been,” Fox said, emphasizing that U.S. efforts were “starting to gain traction” and that U.S. commanders would not be “distracted and drawn off the ultimate goal by some of these spectacular attacks” in outlying areas.

Fox also said U.S. troops had found 107-millimeter Chinese-made rockets they believe were smuggled into Iraq by Iran to arm insurgents.

Along with Sunni insurgents, Fox said, U.S. forces were pursuing “secret cells, rogue elements” of the Al Mahdi militia associated with anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada Sadr, although he said the U.S. did not consider the militia an insurgent group.

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“We understand that there are factions or splinters or pieces of [the Al Mahdi militia] that are still decent and hard-working members of society,” he said.

Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih on Sunday said the national leadership intended to make progress in meeting Washington’s benchmarks for Iraq by September. During an appearance on “Late Edition With Wolf Blitzer,” Salih said Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, who has urged the Iraqi parliament to forgo its August break, was trying to make progress on issues including a national oil law and legislation allowing some former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party a role in government.

In Baghdad, a roadside bomb in an eastern neighborhood killed one person and injured five.

A bomb planted in a motorcycle in a busy marketplace exploded at 4 p.m., killing two and injuring 20, hospital staff members said.

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A mortar strike killed one person and injured two.

Gunmen killed a guard in a drive-by shooting at the Shiite Dawa Party office in central Baghdad.

Police Capt. Ahmed Saadi, an investigating officer in the southern Bayaa neighborhood, was shot to death.

Police in the capital found 16 bodies Sunday.

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At least three deaths were reported in the southern city of Basra. A father and son were killed in a drive-by shooting overnight, police said. Also, the gunshot-riddled body of the owner of a bird shop kidnapped last week was found dumped near a bridge.

In the northern city of Kirkuk, Mayor Ehsan Abdul Majeed Geli resigned, citing political resistance and increased violence.

molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com

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Times staff writers Raheem Salman, Saif Hameed, Zeena Kareem and special correspondents in Baghdad, Basra, Diyala and Kirkuk contributed to this report.


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