Iraq blast kills 23, including 3 Marines
Sheiks targeted; 2d bomb kills 18
BAGHDAD - A suicide bomber attacked a meeting of pro-government Sunni sheiks west of Baghdad yesterday, killing at least 23 people, including three US Marines. At least 18 more people died in a car bombing in the northern city of Mosul.
Both attacks happened in Sunni Arab areas where Al Qaeda in Iraq has been active. They appeared to be part of a campaign by both Sunni and Shi'ite extremists to undermine US efforts to shore up local administrations and secure the security gains achieved since early last year.
The target of the Mosul blast appeared to be the provincial governor, who was near the explosion but escaped injury.
The US military announced that Al Qaeda's top leader in Mosul, known by his nickname Abu Khalaf, was killed in a raid two days earlier. US officials say Mosul is the last major Iraqi city where Al Qaeda has a significant presence.
Yesterday's other bombing took place at a building in Karmah, 20 miles west of Baghdad, where dozens of sheiks had gathered for a meeting attended by US officials, said Colonel Fawzi Fraih, civil defense director of Anbar province.
Local police Captain Amir al-Jumaili said 20 Iraqis were killed and 20 others wounded.
The US command said two interpreters were killed along with three Marines assigned to Multinational Forces-West. It was unclear if the interpreters were among the 20 dead reported by the Iraqis.
US authorities suspected Al Qaeda in Iraq was behind the attack.
Two policemen said the bomber was able to penetrate security because he was a wearing camouflage uniform of the Iraqi police commandos. Both policemen spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons.
The blast took place only days before US troops are to hand over security responsibility for Anbar to the Iraqis, marking a major milestone in the campaign to lower the US profile in an area that had once been center-stage of the war.
Anbar sheiks spearheaded the Sunni revolt against Al Qaeda, one of the key reasons behind the dramatic drop in both overall violence and American casualties since 2006.
The media office for Anbar province said the dead included the town's administrative director and at least two chiefs of major Sunni tribes in the area.
The bomb in Mosul went off between the government headquarters and a market, where the governor of surrounding Nineveh province, Duraid Kashmola, was inspecting damage from an earlier rocket attack, police said.
Also yesterday, American troops killed two suspected Al Qaeda militants and captured 15, including two Egyptians, in raids in central and northern Iraq, the US military said.