Bomb kills 26 as Ramadan begins in Baghdad
BAGHDAD (Reuters) – A bomb killed 26 people in a Shi’ite Muslim stronghold in east Baghdad on Saturday as Baghdad September 23, 2006. Iraq‘s minority Sunnis began the fasting month of Ramadan, which U.S. commanders have warned may see a rise in sectarian bloodshed.
The blast, claimed by a Sunni militant group as a strike at Shi’ite militia, also wounded 29 people who had gathered around a tanker distributing fuel for stoves in Sadr City, police sources said, adding that it was probably a car bomb. Iraq’s Shi’ite majority is expected to observe Ramadan from Monday.
The U.S. general running a six-week-old operation to curb violence that many fear could descend into all-out civil war said on Friday he was short of 3,000 Iraqi soldiers who refused to come to the capital. Washington is counting on U.S.-trained Iraqis to run security and let Americans start going home.
The bombing came hours after the capture of a leader of al Qaeda-allied group Ansar al-Sunna and the airing of a video purporting to show the successor of slain al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi shooting dead a Turkish hostage.
Another video purported to show the bodies of two captive U.S. soldiers being dragged behind a truck and burned in June.
The Iraqi army said its troops, backed by U.S. soldiers, detained Muntasir al-Jibouri and two comrades overnight in a village near Muqdadiya, 80 km (50 miles) northeast of Baghdad.
Brigadier Qasim al-Moussawi told Reuters the captive was the leader of Ansar al-Sunna in that province, Diyala, where it and other Sunni rebel groups have been very active, and where U.S. forces killed Zarqawi in an air strike in June.
Allied with al Qaeda, Ansar al-Sunna came to prominence in 2004 releasing video of its militants beheading foreign hostages and later claiming a suicide attack on a U.S. military mess hall that killed 19 Americans shortly before Christmas that year.
Another Sunni militant group claimed Saturday’s bombing, saying it had struck Sadr City, stronghold of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, to avenge killings by his Mehdi Army militia.
“This operation comes in reaction to the crimes of the Mehdi Army against our Sunni kin in Baghdad,” the Jamaat Jund al-Sahaba — Soldiers of the Prophet’s Companions — said in the claim posted on the Internet. “Our swords can reach the depth of your areas, so stop killing unarmed Sunnis.”
Arabiya television broadcast what it said was an “old” video showing three masked men standing behind and above a hostage and said a man speaking on the tape, who later shot dead the captive Turk, was Abu Ayub al-Masri, now leader of al Qaeda in Iraq.
The station broadcast no sound, nor did it show the killing.
Masri, also known as Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, has not appeared on film since being named in al Qaeda statements as successor to Zarqawi. He issued an audio tape two and half weeks ago calling on Sunni militants to kill Americans, which U.S. commanders believe led to a recent upsurge in attacks.
The al Qaeda-led Mujahideen Shura Council posted a video on the Internet that included images of what a statement said were two dead U.S. soldiers captured and killed near Baghdad in June.
The group says it killed Privates First Class Thomas Tucker and Kristian Menchaca to avenge a rape and murders by other members of their unit in March, though it mentioned the rape case only after the military revealed it, after the kidnap.
Moderate Sunni leaders, who joined a U.S.-sponsored national unity government four months ago, also complain Shi’ite militias are killing Sunnis, who dominated Iraq under Saddam Hussein.
A spokesman for the Accordance Front party said its leaders met Shi’ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to urge protection for Sunnis after gunmen attacked a Sunni area in Baghdad on Friday.
Maliki has vowed to use his new security forces to curb militias but it is unclear if he can make good on his promise.
In Basra, where rival Shi’ite factions are battling British forces and each other for control around Iraq’s main oilfield, a rocket attack on the main foreign base in the southern city killed an American contractor working for the State Department.
(Additional reporting by Ahmed Rasheed and Hiba Moussa)