Curfew imposed after another attack in Iraq

BAGHDAD — At least 20 people were killed and more than 60 wounded Friday in two suicide attacks in Saddam Hussein's hometown as local authorities announced a curfew to try to calm a deteriorating security situation.

The bombings were the third major attack this year in Tikrit, 100 miles north of Baghdad, and they came as Iraqi officials are weighing whether to ask some U.S. troops to remain in Iraq beyond a Dec. 31 deadline for the total withdrawal of American forces.

The first explosion targeted a mosque inside a heavily fortified section of Tikrit that houses Saddam's former palaces, now used as local government headquarters and residences for high-ranking security officials. About eight hours later, a suicide bomber blew up himself up at the hospital where families of the victims had gathered, killing at least six and wounding 10, according to security sources.

The ongoing insecurity even in areas thought to be well guarded has renewed serious questions about the ability of the Iraqi security forces, despite years of costly, U.S.-funded training missions, to assume control of the country after December.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki has said he would consult with leaders of the country's many political blocs before deciding this summer whether to ask some U.S. soldiers to stay. Last week, amid demonstrations by followers of the hard-line anti-American cleric Muqtada al Sadr calling for total U.S. withdrawal, Defense Secretary Robert Gates argued that the Iraqi military still needs U.S. help with logistics, intelligence and defending its airspace.

Friday's explosions came less than 24 hours after four explosions hit another predominantly Sunni Muslim city, Ramadi, on Thursday night, killing five and injuring 27. Residents of Tikrit said that authorities had imposed a curfew until further notice.

Witnesses said that a bomber blew himself up as worshipers started their weekly prayers at the mosque. Most of the wounded suffered serious burns.

"When the imam said 'God is great,' a big explosion happened in the first line where I was standing. I can't remember anything more," said an injured worshiper who asked to remain anonymous to shield himself from reprisals. "I just found myself in my bed in the hospital."

In January, more than 50 people were killed and 150 wounded in a bloody suicide attack targeting a center for police recruits in downtown Tikrit. Two months later, insurgents broke into the provincial government offices, killing more than 50.

(Hammoudi is a McClatchy special correspondent.)


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