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Iraq success story falls prey to bomb

After efforts by US, Tal Afar is again a target

BAGHDAD -- A suicide truck bomber attacked a crowded market in Tal Afar late yesterday, killing at least 17 people and wounding 35 in a city cited by President Bush as a success story in battling insurgents.

The bombing occurred after incoming Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said he had almost finished assembling a Cabinet, the final step in establishing a national unity government. US officials had predicted insurgents would step up attacks to try to block the new administration.

US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said Maliki would soon launch a four-part plan to restore order by securing Baghdad, Basra, and eight other cities, promoting reconciliation, building public confidence in the police and army, and disbanding sectarian militias.

The truck bomber struck about 8:30 p.m. as shoppers in Tal Afar were scurrying to finish their purchases before closing, according to police Colonel Abdul-Karim Mohammed, who gave the casualty figures.

The director of the city hospital, Saleh Qado, said that 20 people were killed and 70 wounded, and that US Army medics provided emergency treatment at the scene before loading the injured into ambulances.

Lieutenant Colonel Ali Rasheed of the Interior Ministry said the main target may have been a police station within the market area of the city, 260 miles northwest of Baghdad.

At least 500 Iraqis have been killed by vehicle bombs in 2006, out of a total of at least 3,525 Iraqis killed in war-related violence this year. These numbers include civilians, government officials, and police and security officials, and are considered only a minimum based on Associated Press reporting.

In March, Bush praised American efforts to stabilize Tal Afar, saying he had ''confidence in our strategy" and that success in the city ''gives reason for hope for a free Iraq."

US and Iraqi forces launched an operation in September to clear the city of insurgents -- the second such attempt in a year. However, by the end of September, a woman suicide bomber slipped into a crowd of recruits, killing at least six people and wounding 30. Since then, the city has been hit by repeated suicide attacks.

Tal Afar's population is a volatile mix of Turkomen, Kurds, and Arabs, which complicates efforts to control the city. Trouble started in 2003 when Kurdish fighters took over Tal Afar, angering the majority Turkomen population. Insurgents are also believed to have used Tal Afar as a hub for smuggling weapons and fighters from Syria, about 90 miles to the west.

Also yesterday, the US command reported that an American soldier was killed the day before in a bombing in Baghdad. At least 2,423 members of the US military have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an AP count.

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