BAGHDAD (AP) â€” A suicide bomber drove a pickup packed with explosives into a group of anti-Al Qaeda tribal chiefs Tuesday in a market area near Fallujah on Tuesday, killing at least 18 people, officials said, in the latest example of the difficulties facing Sunni leaders trying to gain control of the violent area from the terror network.
The elders belonged to the Buissa tribe, a majority of whom have joined in an alliance, the Anbar Salvation Council, against the group Al Qaeda in Iraq.
Police said the car bomb exploded in their midst as they sought to solve a tribal dispute in a market in Amiriyah, 65 kilometres west of Baghdad. Ahmed Issawi, the 40-year-old owner of a food store in the market, said the driver of the pickup said he needed to buy some watermelons as a pretext to gain permission to take his vehicle into the market area.
“We told him not to stay long in the market,” Issawi said, adding the driver did stop to buy some watermelons. Then, he drove very fast towards the sheiks and exploded the pickup. There was a hot storm that sent several stalls and bodies into the air.” Issawi said he and other shop owners tried to extinguish some burning bodies.
At least 18 people were killed and 15 were wounded, according to US Marine Maj. Jeff Pool, a military spokesman for the area.
As the mourners later buried the dead in the cemetery of the town, which is on the outskirts of Fallujah, four mortar shells landed in the cemetery, but no casualties were reported in that attack, police said.
The attack underscored a fierce power struggle that is under way between Al Qaeda in Iraq and more moderate Sunni tribal leaders in the Anbar province.
The US military has touted the alliance against the terror network as a success in its efforts to stabilise the country and has sought to extend the strategy to other parts of Iraq.
An Buissa tribal chieftain, Abbas Mohammad, said the violence would not deter the local leaders from their fight against Al Qaeda as many tribes have joined forces against the terror network in what the US military is touting as a success in its efforts to stabilise Iraq.
“We expected such attacks after we cleanedour area of Al Qaeda members,” Mohammad said. “Despite these attacks, we will go on in chasing Al Qaeda elements.” Elsewhere in Anbar Province, Iraqi security officials said another suicide car bomber struck a police checkpoint in the provincial capital of Ramadi, killing six policemen and wounding three others.
But Pool, the Marine spokesman, disputed the report, which initially came from an intelligence official with the Anbar Salvation Council who declined to be identified due to security concerns and was confirmed by police Col. Tariq Mohammad Yousef, who also is linked to the alliance.
The violence came as Gen. David Petraeus, the top US commander in Iraq, and Iraq’s Interior Minister Jawad Bolani attended the opening ceremony of the Anbar Iraqi Police Academy in nearby Fallujah, which was the site of fierce clashes between Americans and insurgents in 2004.
The initial class of 550 recruits from throughout Anbar Province will graduate August 19, the military said.
Alert guards foiled a suicide attack in eastern Baghdad on Tuesday, gunning down a black-clad female bomber as she approached a group of police recruits and causing her explosives to detonate, according to Interior Ministry Spokesman Abdul-Karim Khalaf.
“She didn’t obey the guards’ orders to stop and they shot her and she immediately blew up,” Khalaf told the AP.
The woman was dead at the scene. A police officer witness, who asked anonymity as he was not authorised to talk to the media, said three police recruits were lightly injured.
Suicide bombings continue to regularly claim scores of victims in Iraq’s violence, principally aimed at Shiite targets and blamed on Sunni extremists of the group Al Qaeda in Iraq. But female bombers remain relatively rare.
The number of execution-style killings usually blamed on Shiite factions also appears to be on the rise after tapering off after radical cleric Muqtada Sadr ordered his fighters to lay low during a security crackdown that began on February 14.
In all, at least 90 Iraqis were killed or found dead, including 61 bullet-riddled bodies â€” more than half found in Baghdad and most showing signs of torture â€” the apparent victims of so-called sectarian death squads. A US soldier also was killed by small-arms fire in southern Baghdad, the military said.
The other deaths included a roadside bombing that killed three soldiers in southwestern Baghdad and the shooting deaths of the driver of a car heading toward former Shiite Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s compound and a Shiite cleric from Sadr’s office in Jibala, 65 kilometers south of Baghdad.
Gunmen later opened fire on mourners returning from the funeral ceremonies for Sadrist Sheik Abdul Rahim Mohammad Naief, wounding seven, police Capt. Muthanna Khalid said.
In other violence, gunmen set up an illegal checkpoint near the Shiite enclave of Khalis in the volatile Diyala Province, northeast of Baghdad, and kidnapped 12 male college students who were on their way home from the Diyala University in Baqouba, police said.
The attack came two weeks after the university was reported to have received threats from Al Qaeda in Iraq with fliers and graffiti on the walls saying the facility should be closed because it is run by “infidels” and the classes are mixed with young men and women.