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A victim was rushed to the hospital yesterday after a bustling outdoor market was hit by a truck bomb in the northern Iraq farming town of Armili.
A victim was rushed to the hospital yesterday after a bustling outdoor market was hit by a truck bomb in the northern Iraq farming town of Armili. (Slahal Adeen Rasheed/ Reuters)

115 are killed in north Iraq as blast hits Shi'ite village

Insurgents seen moving attacks from Baghdad

BAGHDAD -- Suicide attacks across Iraq killed at least 144 people and injured scores in an 18-hour period, including a massive truck bombing in a northern Shi'ite village that ripped through a crowded market, burying dozens in the rubble of shops and mud houses, Iraqi officials said yesterday.

Shattering a relative lull in Iraq's violence, the attacks raised questions about whether insurgents who have fled an ongoing military offensive in Baghdad and Diyala Province are regrouping and assaulting soft targets elsewhere, in less-secure areas with fewer troops.

The worst carnage occurred in the Shi'ite Turkmen village of Armili, 50 miles south of Kirkuk, when a suicide bomber detonated a food truck laden with explosives in the central market at 9:30 a.m., officials said.

The explosion, which was among the deadliest since the start of the war in 2003, occurred as families had gathered for morning shopping.

Amid the new violence, the US military reported yesterday that eight American soldiers were killed over the past two days, all in combat or by roadside bombs in Baghdad and the western province of Anbar. The fatalities underscored the mounting death toll from the five-month security offensive, reinforced by thousands of US troops.

Police and provincial officials put the Armili death toll at 115 but said they expected the number to rise. Colonel Abbas Mohammed Amin, the police commander of Tuz Khormato district, where the village is located, said 155 were killed, including 25 children and 40 women. About 250 were wounded, he said.

Armili is a town of 26,000 people, mostly Shi'ites from Iraq's Turkman ethnic minority. Residents say tensions are constantly high with Sunni Arabs who dominate the surrounding villages.

The US military has said Sunni extremists have been fleeing the three-week-old US offensive centered at the city of Baqubah, which is 60 miles to the south near Baghdad. The sweep aims to uproot Al Qaeda militants and Sunni insurgents using the area to stage car bomb attacks in the capital.

"I was working in my shop at the market when suddenly I was thrown on the ground, and the shop's ceiling collapsed on me, breaking my leg," said Abbas Qanbar Asghar Al Bayati, 32, a repairman, who also sustained injuries to his head and shoulders. "I could not see anything because of the smoke and dust, which covered the whole village."

The explosion shattered more than 20 shops and 50 mud houses, the walls and roofs collapsing over their inhabitants, said Colonel Abbas Qanbar Taqi, commander of the Armili police force.

The wounded were transported to hospitals in Tuz Khormato and Kirkuk, and then, as those hospitals overflowed with victims, to Sulaymaniyah, 75 miles to the southwest. Crowds gathered in front of Kirkuk Hospital to donate blood, said Mohammad Jassem, a doctor who was treating victims.

At the hospital, Bayati learned that his brother had died in the rubble of their house. "I would like to ask what religion, what Islam would allow such savagery to kill peaceful villagers in this way?" he asked. "We are rural people who don't even know the road to Baghdad or anywhere else, and our main interest is to eke out a living."

Zainab Abdul Hussein, 41, a junior high school teacher and mother of four, sustained serious burns on her hands and other parts of her body. Speaking from her hospital bed in Tuz Khormato, she said the explosion was so powerful that it killed a family of seven. They were her relatives, she said.

"The huge fire reached inside the homes, and shrapnel flew in all directions, killing many," Hussein said. "I was rescued and brought here by men from the village next to ours. There were no ambulances."

She asked about her 5-year-old son who was playing in front of their house before it collapsed. The nurses told her that the boy was missing and probably dead.

"This is a catastrophe that has befallen the whole town, not just my family," Hussein said.

As of late yesterday, no group had claimed responsibility for the bombing. The vast majority of the victims were Shi'ite, and Armili is the birthplace of two prominent Shi'ite politicians, Abbas al-Bayati, and Muhammad Mahdi al-Bayati.

In recent months, insurgents linked to Al Qaeda in Iraq and other Sunni Arab extremist groups have targeted Shi'ite areas across Iraq with suicide bombings.

Late Friday night, a suicide bomber detonated a car filled with explosives near a funeral in Zargosh, a remote Shi'ite Kurdish and Turkmen village nestled along the Iranian border in the volatile Diyala Province. The blast killed 23 and wounded 18, according to police officials.

For the past three weeks, US forces have waged an intense campaign in and around Baqubah, the capital of Diyala Province, to weed out Al Qaeda in Iraq and other Sunni insurgents. In recent months, the extremists have gained control of the area and staged attacks from there into Baghdad.

US military commanders have said that many insurgents fled Baqubah just before the offensive began.

The back-to-back attacks underscored the reality US military commanders face. Even as thousands of troops have been dispatched to Baghdad and Diyala, there are not enough to secure the whole country, leaving wide swaths of vulnerable targets.

Washington has been pressing Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to pass measures to encourage Sunni Arabs to turn away from support of the insurgency to back the government.

While the capital has seen a drop in major suicide bombings in the past few weeks, lower-level violence has persisted. A few hours after the attack in Armili yesterday, a suicide car bomb exploded in the Zayuna neighborhood of eastern Baghdad near an Iraqi army patrol, killing at least six people and wounding 20, police said.

Roadside bombs killed five US soldiers in different parts of Baghdad on Friday and one soldier Thursday, the military reported yesterday. Two Marines were killed in combat Thursday in Anbar Province.

Yesterday, at Forward Operating Base Falcon, dozens of soldiers gathered in a small stucco chapel to remember Specialist James L. Adair, 26, who was killed in a powerful roadside bombing on June 29 while patrolling the Hay al Jihad neighborhood of southwestern Baghdad.

The soldiers sat in roughhewn wooden pews, their weapons on the ground by their feet. A framed photo of Adair sat on a small pedestal at the front of the room, next to a rifle, a helmet, and boots.

"There's nothing I or anyone else can say to make this loss easy," the battalion commander, Captain Brian Ducote, said about Adair.

Adair, of Carthage, Texas, joined the Army in September 2005, served at Fort Riley, Kan., and deployed to Iraq in February, the vanguard of a wave of about 30,000 additional soldiers in and around Baghdad. His wife, Chelsea, is expecting their first child in September, the soldiers said.

Material from the Associated Press was included in this report.