Iraq bomber kills 20

FALLUJAH (Reuters) — A suicide bomber killed up to 20 men queuing at a police recruitment centre west of Baghdad on Thursday, police said, and Al Qaeda members battled a rival Sunni faction in the south of the capital.

Police and hospital officials said 20 people had been killed and at least 20 more wounded in the Fallujah bombing, but the US military said only one policeman had been killed.

The deaths of three more US soldiers were announced on the last day of May, already the deadliest month for US forces in more than two years.

A total of 3,473 have died since the US-led invasion in 2003, 122 of them in May.

US President George W. Bush has committed nearly 30,000 additional troops for a major security crackdown aimed at averting all-out sectarian war, but he is coming under growing domestic pressure to bring the soldiers home.

In Baghdad, the Iraqi government said it was working closely with British authorities to secure the release of five Britons kidnapped from a government building on Tuesday in a raid blamed on the Mehdi Army of Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr. “The government condemns this crime and is doing all it can to ensure the immediate release of the kidnapped Britons,” it said in a statement.

Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno, the deputy US commander in Iraq, said US troops continued to search for the Britons — a computer expert and his four bodyguards.

“We are doing everything we can. We treat any coalition partner like we do a US soldier that was kidnapped,” Odierno told a Pentagon briefing.

On Wednesday, soldiers hunting for the hostages used armoured vehicles to smash their way into homes in Sadr City, a Mehdi Army stronghold.

The Fallujah suicide bomber, wearing a vest packed with explosives, walked up to a queue of about 150 young recruits as they waited outside a police station and blew himself up, police spokesman Hamid Abid said.

Bilal Mohammad, a doctor at Fallujah hospital, said 20 had been killed and 20 wounded.

Recruitment centres for Iraqi security forces are common targets for such attacks, which are mostly blamed on Sunni Islamist Al Qaeda.

Fallujah, 50km west of Baghdad, is in restive Anbar province, a stronghold of the Sunni Arab insurgency.

Some Sunni Arab tribes in Anbar have been encouraging young men to join the Iraqi security forces as part of a new strategy to combat Al Qaeda in the area. Al Qaeda in return has responded by attacking those it accuses of cooperating with authorities.

In Ramadi, capital of Anbar, a suicide truck bomber killed five and wounded 15 in an attack on a mobile telephone communications centre.

Anbar remains one of the main battlegrounds for US forces, who have also poured thousands of extra soldiers into Baghdad in an attempt to quell violence between majority Shiites and minority Sunni Arabs once dominant under Saddam Hussein.

Al Qaeda is waging a campaign of bombings against Sunni Arab tribes who have formed an alliance against them in Anbar. The Sunni insurgent group the Islamic Army in Iraq also opposes Al Qaeda’s indiscriminate killings.

On Thursday, members from the two groups turned the streets of Amiriya in southwestern Baghdad into a battleground, residents said. Frightened residents gave varying death tolls.

Many fled on foot and merchants shuttered their shops. 

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