12 killed in suicide bombing near Baghdad

The Baltimore Sun

BAGHDAD -- A suicide bomber edged into a crowd of Iraqi officials and U.S. forces gathered for a meeting north of Baghdad yesterday, killing as many as 12 people, including an American soldier.

It was one of three attacks nationwide that shattered the peaceful start of the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha, which began Wednesday for Sunni Muslims. Shiites begin celebrating the four-day holiday today.

The violence underscored what a U.S. official called the "great security threats" still looming in Iraq, threats illustrated by two recent discoveries.

In Diyala province, north of Baghdad, Iraqi civilians tipped off U.S. forces to a gruesome torture chamber, with chains on the walls and ceilings, and a bed on which victims apparently were chained and subjected to electrical shocks.

South of Baghdad, the U.S. military said, it found an elaborate system of tunnels dug by insurgents along the Euphrates River. The militants apparently used the tunnels as hiding places and as positions from which to fire on U.S. forces. Soldiers from the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, which made the find, used two bombs to destroy the tunnel system.

The discoveries occurred in areas still beset by Sunni Muslim insurgent activity blamed on the group al-Qaida in Iraq. Troops found the tunnel network Dec. 16 during a search that also uncovered a cache of bomb-making equipment in Iskandariyah, 25 miles south of Baghdad.

The torture center was found in Muqdadiyah, 60 miles northeast of Baghdad. The remains of 26 people were found at the compound, which was uncovered during operations in the area this month.

A military statement said 24 insurgents were killed during the three-day operation.

"There are still great threats out there," said a U.S. Embassy official who asked not to be identified. "Each attack illustrates that."

The deadliest attack yesterday occurred in Kanan, about 12 miles east of the Diyala provincial capital, Baqouba. The U.S. military said a bomber wearing an explosive vest approached a building where a local council meeting was about to take place. Several U.S. soldiers were standing outside the building, according to a military statement.

An American soldier and at least five Iraqi civilians were killed, and 10 U.S. troops and an Iraqi military translator were injured, the statement said.

An unidentified Diyala police official put the death toll at 12. He said initial reports indicated that the dead included a "prominent leader" of the so-called Awakening Council of local sheiks, who have joined U.S. and Iraqi troops against insurgents.

It is not unusual for U.S. and Iraqi officials to report differing numbers of casualties, and there was no way to determine which was correct.

Also in Diyala, police said gunmen opened fire on a patrol of Iraqi police and volunteer security guards working alongside U.S. and Iraqi forces. The police official said one policeman and two security volunteers were killed.

Such security guards number in the tens of thousands and are paid about $10 a day by U.S. forces to bolster the anti-insurgency effort. They frequently are targeted by insurgents.

In Baghdad, police said three people were killed when a car bomb exploded on a busy shopping street.

Tina Susman writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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