A suicide bomber detonated a truck full of explosives in the crowded outdoor market of a Shiite farming town north of Baghdad today, levelling houses and stores and killing more than 100 people, officials said.
The blast – hours after a smaller suicide bombing in another Shiite village killed more than 20 – suggested Sunni militants are regrouping to launch attacks in regions further away from Baghdad where security is thinner, beyond the edges of a three-week old US offensive on the capital’s northern flank.
The US military today also reported that eight American service members were killed in fighting in Baghdad and western Anbar province over two days, reflecting the increased US death toll that has come with the new offensives. A British soldier was killed in fighting with Shiite militias overnight in the southern city of Basra.
Today’s blast ripped through the market in Armili at around 8.30am as crowds gathered for morning shopping. The explosion destroyed old mud-brick houses and set cars on fire. Victims had to be transported in farmers’ pick-up trucks to the nearest health facility, in Tuz Khormato, 27 miles to the north.
Authorities and residents spent hours digging bodies out of the rubble of two dozen shops and houses, police said. Accounts of the toll varied, hampered by the difficulty of the search and the farming town’s remote location.
Deputy governor of Salahuddin province Abdullah Jabara, told state-run Iraqiya television that 115 died – 70% of them women, children and elderly. He blamed al-Qaida for the attack.
Police Colonel Sherzad Abdullah, an officer in the Tuz Khormato police, said 115 were killed and some 200 wounded. Tuz Khormato’s police chief, Colonel Abbas Mohammed Amin, put the toll at 150 dead.
At the market, “I saw destruction everywhere, dozens of cars destroyed, about 15 shops and many houses, even some more than 700 meters away,” said Haitham Yalman, whose daughter and sister were wounded.
Weeping and screaming relatives search frantically for word of loved ones at Tuz Khormato’s hospital. Ali Hussein read the names of victims being moved further north to Kirkuk for treatment. “My cousin has died in the explosion but I don’t know the fate of my brother,” he said in tears.
Armirli, 100 miles north of Baghdad, is a town of 26,000, mostly Shiites from Iraq’s Turkoman ethnic minority. Residents said tensions were constantly high with Sunni Arabs who dominate the villages of the surrounding countryside. Iraqi security presence is scant in the region, at a remote corner of Salahuddin province near the border with neighbouring Diyala province.
The night before, a suicide bomber detonated a boobytrapped car at around 930pm at a funeral being held in the Shiite Kurdish village of Zargosh, in the Sadiya region of Diyala province about 75 miles north-east of Baghdad, police said.
The blast killed 22 people and wounded 17 others, said the head of Diyala provincial council, Ibrahim Bajilan, and a police official in the provincial capital of Baqouba. The village is home to about 30 Kurdish families who had been expelled under Saddam Hussein’s rule and returned after his fall.
In Baghdad – where attacks have fallen in recent weeks – a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-packed minibus by an Iraqi army patrol in the eastern Zayouna district today, killing five soldiers and a civilian, police said.
The US military in Iraq, beefed up by new deployments this year, is conducting an intensified security crackdown in the capital aimed at bringing calm to Baghdad. At the same time, US forces are waging offensives south of Baghdad and to the north, around Baqouba, aiming to uproot al-Qaida fighters and other Sunni insurgents who use the areas as staging ground for attacks in the capital.