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2 explosions leave 22 dead in Baghdad

June 05, 2008|Ashraf Khalil | Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD — A pair of explosions in Baghdad killed at least 22 people Wednesday as insurgents launched attacks aimed at Iraqi police officers. It was the deadliest day in the capital in several months.

Three U.S. soldiers were killed by small-arms fire in an attack in Hawija, near the northern oil city of Kirkuk. At least 4,090 American soldiers have died since the Iraq war began in March 2003, according to the independent website icasualties.org.

In the east Baghdad neighborhood of Kamaliya, U.S. and Iraqi soldiers found a mass grave with at least 10 bodies believed to have been buried about two years ago. The soldiers, acting on a tip from a resident, unearthed the bodies in a "watery well-like grave," the U.S. military said in a statement.

In Baghdad, police said a large truck bomb exploded outside the home of police Brig. Gen. Nadhim Taeih in the eastern neighborhood of Shaab. The U.S. military said that the blast appeared to be an accident that occurred while Shiite militiamen were transporting rockets and mortar rounds, possibly to fire at Americans.

Taeih commands the Najda, a rapid-reaction force with the Iraqi police. He was not home at the time. The blast killed at least 15 people, including one child and Taeih's nephew, Information Ministry officials said. Fifty people were injured, including several members of Taeih's immediate family.

But a U.S. military spokesman said Taeih was not the target. "They were trying to attack us . . . and it went off" accidentally, said Lt. Col. Steven Stover, who provided the death toll. "They wouldn't waste rockets like that" on a suicide attack.

Later in the day, a car bomb killed seven people, including three members of an elite police commando unit, in the central Baghdad neighborhood of Jadriya. Witnesses and police officers at the scene said a parked red Volkswagen Passat exploded as a police patrol truck was passing by.

Police officers, firefighters and U.S. soldiers rushed to the site, where the remnants of the Passat were surrounded by at least three destroyed vehicles.

The violence appeared to signal a renewed insurgent campaign against Iraqi police. Several witnesses to the Jadriya bombing noted that the attackers could have achieved a much higher casualty count by targeting one of the many outdoor cafes, restaurants and ice-cream parlors that line the street.

Instead, the attackers waited until a patrol from the police commando squad known as the Maghawir passed. The commandos patrol Baghdad in lightly armored pickup trucks, and five of the officers were wounded, along with six civilians.

Baghdad had been relatively calm for months. Multiple bombings were a near-daily occurrence in the capital until last year, when such attacks tapered off considerably in part because of a large-scale U.S. troop buildup and the increasing capability of the Iraqi security forces.

The mass grave uncovered in east Baghdad appeared to date to at least 2006, when death squads roamed the capital at night and dozens of bodies were discovered almost daily, many bearing signs of torture.

Many of those slain at the time were Sunni Muslims, prompting allegations of a revenge campaign by Shiite Muslim militiamen operating within the Iraqi security forces.

The ethnicity and manner of death of those found in the grave were still being determined, according to the Interior Ministry.

Four other bodies were found dumped in Baghdad, most of them riddled with bullet holes, police officials said.

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ashraf.khalil@latimes.com

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