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Despite US gains, terror attacks persist in Iraq

An Iraqi Army vehicle remained in the street after a bombing in Baghdad killed four civilians and two Iraqi soldiers. An Iraqi Army vehicle remained in the street after a bombing in Baghdad killed four civilians and two Iraqi soldiers. (Mahmoud Raouf Mahmoud/Reuters)

BAGHDAD - An explosives-laden sewage truck blew up near a police station and a car bomb struck an Iraqi Army checkpoint yesterday in attacks that bore the hallmarks of Al Qaeda and showed extremists can still hit hard despite recent gains by US-led forces.

A US military spokesman said the terror network is on the run in some areas, but it "obviously remains very lethal."

The bombings and a series of shootings mainly targeted Iraqi security forces and tribal leaders facing internal rivalries, but bystanders also were struck. At least 25 people were killed or found dead nationwide.

The deadliest attack occurred when a car blew up near a gas station across the street from an Iraqi Army checkpoint, killing four civilians and two Iraqi soldiers and wounding 25 others.

Flames shot out from a military pickup as ambulances raced to the scene, driving past a long concrete barrier that recently was decorated with murals by local artists in an attempt to beautify the city.

It was the latest in a series of car bombings in the capital despite stringent security measures put in place as part of a US-Iraqi military operation - now in its ninth month - and celebrations marking the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

In the northern city of Mosul, a suicide bomber in a sewage pump truck detonated his payload as he approached a police station that was recently rebuilt after four previous attacks, police said.

The blast collapsed most of the building, killing at least four policemen, including the station chief, and wounding 75 people, police said. A police spokesman, Brigadier General Mohammed al-Waqqa, said several nearby shops and cars were damaged.

Mosul has seen a rise in violence that many blame in part on an influx of militants who fled the Baghdad security crackdown.

Nobody claimed responsibility for the attacks, but both bombings bore the hallmarks of Sunni Arab insurgents, particularly Al Qaeda in Iraq. The terror group had promised to step up attacks during Ramadan, which ended over the weekend with the Eid al-Fitr holiday. Gunmen also killed a Sunni tribal leader who recently turned against Al Qaeda in an ambush west of Baghdad that also left his son and another relative dead, police said.

A Shi'ite tribal chieftain was killed in a drive-by shooting in the southern city of Nasiriyah, the latest victim in violence between Shi'ite groups jockeying for power in the oil-rich region.

US commanders have said the increase in troops ordered by President Bush in January, and the increased operations that followed, have left Al Qaeda fractured and pushed militants into remote parts of the north and south. Additional operations have been going after those pockets of fighters.

Officials have cited a drop in suicide bombings, from more than 60 in January to about 30 a month since July, along with a decrease in the flow of foreign fighters across the borders. But they acknowledge they have been unable to stop the car bombings and suicide attacks usually blamed on Al Qaeda in Iraq.

Al Qaeda in Iraq "obviously remains very lethal," said Colonel Steven Boylan, a spokesman for the top US commander, General David Petraeus.

Another US spokesman in Baghdad, Rear Admiral Greg Smith, said the numbers of car bombs have dropped significantly and are causing fewer casualties since the security operation began.

"We have certainly taken a great deal of the network down, a lot of leaders, facilitators, financiers," he said. "But it's clear out here we've got an enemy that's got a lot of fight left in him."

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