BAGHDAD (AFP) â€” Suicide bombers struck a restaurant and an army recruiting station in Iraq on Thursday, killing 37 people, with the bloodiest attack claimed by the Al Qaeda group led by militant Abu Mussab Zarqawi.
The Internet claim came shortly after the group said it was behind the triple suicide attacks on luxury hotels in Amman late Wednesday that left 56 dead and scores more wounded.
Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who had earlier in the day toured the wreckage in Amman, called on Syria to do more to stop insurgents crossing its territory into Iraq.
In the Baghdad attack, 31 people were killed and at least 28 wounded when a bomber wearing a belt of explosives blew himself up at a restaurant popular with police.
â€œOne of our cubs… infiltrated a group of apostate police and the Badr (Shiite) perfidious forces as well as the guards of the Palestine Hotel at the Qaduri restaurant on Abu Nawas street in Baghdad,â€ said a statement by the Zarqawi’s group which could not be verified.
â€œThe operation is part of the revenge raid for the Sunnis in Qaim.â€
US forces and Iraqi troops Saturday launched a military sweep to restore Iraqi control and destroy Al Qaeda operatives in the Qaim region along the Syrian border.
Iraqi Defence Minister Saadun Dulaimi said 200 rebels had been killed in that operation.
UN chief Kofi Annan condemned the bombing and said he was â€œappalled by the continued indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians, which no cause can justify,â€ according to a statement from his office.
Another six Iraqis died and 13 were wounded Thursday when another suicide driver detonated a car bomb outside an Iraqi army recruitment centre in Tikrit, Saddam’s hometown in the north of the country, police said.
Two more civilians were killed an hour later in the same spot when another bomb exploded, police added.
Straw, who arrived in Baghdad after stopping off in Amman to visit one of the bomb sites, called on Syria to step up its efforts to control its borders and prevent fighters from entering Iraq.
â€œThere is great concern in the European Union about the need for Syria to take much more action to control terrorism in its territory and from its territory,â€ Straw told a news conference held jointly with Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari.
â€œSyria should be more serious about controlling its borders and preventing the penetration of terrorists into Iraq,â€ Jaafari said, adding Syria should close â€œany (terrorist) training camps that they have inside their land.â€
In other violence, the bodies of 27 people who had been shot in the head were found in open countryside east of the capital. The grisly discovery was made in the region of Jassan, near the town of Kut, according to army Colonel Badr Basri, who said the victims were dressed in civilian clothes and had their hands and feet.
â€œMost bodies belonged to men aged between 20 and 35 who appeared to have been killed 10 days ago,â€ the officer said.
An official from the Sunni Islamic Party, Ahmad Rashid Rawi, kidnapped on Tuesday in the restive town of Ramadi, west of Baghdad, was also found murdered, his party said.
Meanwhile, Iraqi government Spokesman Leith Kubba condemned Wednesday’s bombings against three hotels in Amman, saying they showed that countries in the region had to stand together in the fight against terrorism.
â€œArab public opinion ignores the truth of what is going on in Iraq and we hope (these attacks) will provide a wake-up call which help boost solidarity with us,â€ he said.
A senior Iraqi political leader suggested the Amman bombings required a regional response.
â€œThey prove that the terrorism which rages in Iraq has also become a real threat to other countries,â€ said Jawad Maliki, deputy leader of Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari’s Dawa Party.
â€œThese attacks seem to have been conducted with expertise from Iraq,â€ he said, adding that he would not be surprised if Iraqis were involved.
US Major-General Rick Lynch said the US military believes Zarqawi’s group is seeking to expand operations across the Middle East.
â€œWe are concerned that Zarqawi intends to spread his actions across the region… We believe that is what we sawâ€ in Amman, Lynch told a news conference.
Meanwhile, Kubba hinted that the court trying Saddam and seven former aides on charges of crimes against humanity might appoint new defence lawyers if the current attorneys failed to turn up for the next hearing on November 28.
â€œThe High Tribunal is the only one able to rule on this, and is free to appoint other lawyers or choose any other solution,â€ he said.
The murder of two defence lawyers has threatened to unravel the proceedings, with lawyers representing Saddam and his co-defendants calling for better protection.
Saddam and his former henchmen went on trial on October 19 on charges related to a 1982 massacre of more than 140 Shiite villagers from Dujail, north of the capital. All pleaded not guilty, but if convicted they could be executed.