15 die in Iraq bombings as nation prepares for Arab League summit

McClatchy NewspapersMarch 7, 2012 

BAGHDAD — Attacks in Iraq killed 15 people on Wednesday, including 12 who died in a double bombing in Tal Afar in Nineveh province, a city that American officials once touted as an exemplar of counterinsurgency policy.

The attacks came just weeks ahead of a meeting of Arab League heads of state that is to be held for the first time in Baghdad later this month.

The Tal Afar bombing followed a familiar pattern often associated with al Qaida in Iraq — an explosion followed by another a few minutes later, after rescuers had arrived to assist the victims of the first bomb.

"A car bomb exploded at around 1 p.m. close to a popular workers restaurant in Kifah neighborhood in downtown Tal Afar," said a security official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to speak with reporters. "A few minutes later, just as people began to gather to give assistance, a suicide bomber wearing an explosive vest, mingling with the others, detonated his charge, causing more death and harm."

In Baghdad, a parked car bomb in the tony Mansour neighborhood targeted the motorcade of Mohammed Sahib al Daraji, a member of the Sadrist political party and the minister of construction and housing, killing one civilian and wounding four people including two of the minister's security detail, security officials said. A statement from the minister's office confirmed that the minister survived the attack.

In Garma, nine miles east of Fallujah in western Anbar province, a roadside bomb targeted a police patrol, killing one officer and wounding two other police.

And in Haditha, a roadside bomb detonated prematurely, killing the insurgent who was planting it and wounding three civilians.

This violence comes at a time when the Iraqi government is preparing to host the Arab League summit, a meeting that would give the Iraqi government much needed support from its Arab neighbors. The violence would not disrupt plans for the March 29 summit, officials said.

"This meeting will give legitimacy to the Iraqi government. It will show that Iraq is still within the Arab fold and can play a distinguished role in the Arab world" said Faiza al Obaidi, a member of parliament from the Iraqiya bloc, led by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. "This image is not to the liking of the insurgent groups who wish to keep Iraq isolated and weak."

Tal Afar was the scene in 2005 of a massive U.S. rebuilding effort that was considered the first test of America's "clear, hold, build" strategy. President George W. Bush in 2006 hailed Tal Afar as a success story and then Army Col. H.R. McMaster, the U.S. commander there at the time, became a key adviser to then Army Gen. David Petraeus.

The attacks came two days after coordinated insurgent assaults in Haditha killed 27 police officers. Security officials said those attacks, which struck both checkpoints and police officers' homes, were carried out by al Qaida.

A security official who was not authorized to speak to reporters told McClatchy that the leader of the attack had been captured. The official identified the arrested man as Asim Mohammed al Ubaidi and said he was a former special operations soldier in Iraq's army. Ubaidi's two sons were also arrested. "They were his accomplices," the security official said.

(Issa is a McClatchy special correspondent.)

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