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Bombing rocks Fallujah

The Baltimore Sun

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Everyone assumed that the car parked outside the groom's home belonged to a friend or relative. But as the joyful, ribbon-decked convoy pulled up, conveying the bride to her new family, the vehicle exploded.

Up to five guests were killed and 10 injured in the blast yesterday at a police officer's wedding in Fallujah, police and witnesses said.

Word of the attack came as Iraqi police claimed to have killed up to 80 al-Qaida-linked gunmen and arrested 50 in fierce clashes on the city's outskirts the previous day. The figures could not be independently verified.

The U.S. military also announced the death of two Marines in combat Wednesday in Anbar province. At least 3,163 U.S. personnel have been reported killed in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

In an instant, the explosion in Fallujah turned a celebration into a scene of blood-soaked horror. Women wailed and men shouted for help in rescuing survivors.

"There was debris everywhere, and dust mixing with puddles of blood," said police Lt. Wissam Mohammed, who was at the wedding.

The bride and groom survived, but five guests were killed and 10 injured, Mohammed said. A hospital official later put the death toll at three.

Police and government officials say deep divisions have emerged between residents who support the city's new authorities and those who back the insurgents.

On Wednesday, gunmen reportedly raided Ameriyat al-Fallujah, which Col. Abdullah Mohammed, the police chief in nearby Fallujah, described as an enclave of government supporters in an area dominated by Sunni Arab militants.

Iraqi police responded, trading gunfire with the assailants for hours, said Brig. Gen. Abdul Karim Khalaf, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, which oversees the police. A number of foreign fighters were among the dead and those arrested, including Afghans and Arabs, Mohammed and Khalaf said. They did not provide information about police or civilian casualties.

The U.S. military did not immediately respond to a request for information about the incident. U.S. military officials have sought to enlist the support of provincial tribal leaders in the fight against al-Qaida in Iraq.

The violence west of Baghdad came as U.S. and Iraqi forces are focusing attention on the capital. The deployment of thousands more U.S. and Iraqi troops in recent weeks has coincided with an apparent drop in sectarian killings in Baghdad, but it has raised concern that militants might shift elsewhere.

Police in the capital recovered 15 unidentified bodies yesterday, apparently victims of sectarian death squads. Before the crackdown, they often found more than 30 a day.

Another person was killed and four injured when a roadside bomb exploded near Beirut Square, in Shiite-dominated east Baghdad, police said. The blast targeted a minibus ferrying government employees to work.

Another bomb targeted the convoy of Jalal Eddin Sagheer, a prominent Shiite cleric and government ally who has survived previous assassination attempts. The cleric and his entourage escaped unharmed, an aide said.

In Baqouba, U.S. forces arrested police Brig. Gen. Ghassan Khadran on suspicion of running death squads, provincial authorities said. He was the second senior provincial officer arrested on similar charges.

U.S. and Iraqi forces killed at least four suspected insurgents and detained 27 in raids around the country yesterday, the U.S. military said.

In other developments, two U.S. pilots were injured when an Army OH-58 Kiowa helicopter made a hard landing north of Baghdad, the military said. Initial reports indicated that the incident, which took place south of Kirkuk, was the result of mechanical failure, not enemy fire, a brief statement said.

Alexandra Zavis writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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