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Fears grow of shift in Iraq tactics

BAGHDAD — BAGHDAD -- A deadly bombing Saturday in a remote village in northern Iraq has underscored fears that Sunni insurgents facing military crackdowns in Baghdad and Diyala province are simply directing their attacks to areas outside the concentration of U.S. troops.

The toll from the suicide truck bombing in the impoverished Shiite Turkmen village of Amerli, 100 miles north of Baghdad in Salahuddin province, stood at about 150 yesterday, making it one of the deadliest single bombings, if not the deadliest, since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

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Police said the truck used in Saturday's attack contained 4.5 tons of explosives concealed beneath watermelons. The blast leveled dozens of houses and shops, trapping and killing many residents in the rubble.

Casualty counts varied. Some officials put the toll at 130 to 150, but Col. Abbas Mohammed Ameen, the police commander in Tuz Khurmato, a town 15 miles away, said 155 were killed and 265 wounded. If he is correct, the Amerli attack would be the single worst bombing of the war, deadlier than the March truck bombing in Tal Afar that killed 152 people.

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Tahsin Kahea, a member of the provincial council and a prominent member of the Turkmen community, said he believed that the insurgent group al-Qaida in Iraq and religious extremists had "started to attack the Shiite towns outside the main cities after they have been suffocated in Baghdad and Diyala."

U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, issued a joint statement yesterday in which they condemned the attack, praised Iraqi security and emergency services, and promised to help the investigation. "We send our thoughts and prayers to the victims' families and those injured," the statement said. "This attack is another sad example of the nature of the enemy and their use of indiscriminate violence to kill innocent citizens."

Near the town of Haswa, about 30 miles west of Baghdad, another suicide truck bomber killed more than 20 Iraqi army recruits and wounded 27 yesterday, Iraqi officials said. They said the recruits were killed as they were being driven to a recruitment center in Baghdad from Anbar province. They were joining the Iraqi security forces as part of a drive by Sunni tribal leaders to fight the group al-Qaida in Iraq, which has seized control of parts of the overwhelmingly Sunni province.

Two nearly simultaneous car bomb blasts yesterday in the Baghdad neighborhood of Karrada killed at least eight Iraqis and wounded 12, the U.S. military said.

On the outskirts of Amerli, black flags bore the names of the dead -- in some cases more than a half-dozen from a single family. A 12-foot crater gaped amid the rubble that was once the town center. Villagers said 50 houses and 55 shops had been destroyed and scores damaged, with debris piled alongside shattered buildings -- where rescuers had tried to dig out survivors. The town has been without electricity and water since the blast.

The village's medical service -- one small treatment center -- was immediately overwhelmed after the attack, and many of the wounded were sent to Tuz Khurmato, Kirkuk and Sulaimaniyah. Some were flown to Turkey.

The governor of Salahuddin province, Hamed Hamoud, arrived with his police commander to console residents. But villagers refused to meet with them, instead throwing stones and cursing them for failing to protect Amerli.

As he arrived at work in Amerli yesterday, Imad Abdul Hussein, a police officer, said: "I came to do my job and to take revenge for my uncle killed yesterday. We will fight al-Qaida to the last drop of our blood; we will destroy them or they will destroy us."

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No group claimed immediate responsibility for the attack, but Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, leader of the jihadist group Islamic State in Iraq, issued an audiotape warning Iran to stop supporting Iraq's Shiites. The tape, posted on a Web site, said, "We are giving the Persians, and especially the rulers of Iran, a two-month period to end all kinds of support for the Iraqi Shiite government and to stop direct and indirect intervention." He added: "Otherwise, a severe war is waiting for you."

The attack on Amerli came 12 hours after a blast in a Shiite-dominated farming district in neighboring Diyala province, close to the Iranian border. That attack, in Zakoosh, killed 17 people, and came as further evidence of the bombers' ability to attack outside Baghdad and Baqouba, where tens of thousands of U.S. troops have been waging an offensive to reduce insurgent activity.

U.S. commanders concede that 80 percent of the insurgents' leadership in Baqouba evaded the siege and are thought to have escaped.

It is rare for insurgents to mount such large attacks in remote villages like Amerli, often preferring to strike in crowded city centers and at religious sites and Iraqi security forces. But since the start of the Baghdad security plan in February, they have frequently struck outside the capital or against targets less well defended.

In May, two truck bomb attacks in the Kurdish region -- including one in the center of Irbil -- killed at least 69 people. In April, two suicide car bombings about two weeks apart killed 42 and 71 people near Shiite shrines in the holy city of Karbala. A month earlier, a double car bombing in the Shiite town of Hilla killed 90 pilgrims, with 28 more killed elsewhere the same day.

All these bombings occurred after the Feb. 14 start of the new Baghdad security plan, which brought tens of thousands more U.S. troops into the city as part of the latest crackdown aimed at restoring order to the capital.



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