Blast in Northern Iraq Claims Many Lives

A truck bomb in a northern Iraq farming town populated by Shiite ethnic Turks claims more than 100 lives. Elsewhere, several more Americans lost their lives in separate incidents, and the Iraqi parliament continues to struggle over an oil law.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Debbie Elliott.

The news from Iraq is often bleak, but this was an especially dark day. A truck bomb in a northern town claimed more than 100 lives. Some 150 other people were wounded.

NPR's John Burnett is following this and other developments from our Baghdad bureau. John, what can you tell us about today's attack?

JOHN BURNETT: Well, Debbie, it happened at 8:30 this morning. There was a truck filled with explosives that blew up in a crowded outdoor market in an agricultural town called Armili, about a hundred miles north of Baghdad, about 50 miles south of the city of Kirkuk.

Authorities say that several mud houses and businesses were destroyed and the television pictures showed scores of men in the streets, loading makeshifts stretchers of bloodied bodies into ambulances. And there were farmers reportedly carrying injured Iraqis in their trucks, 30 miles away to the nearest hospital.

This is a remote area that hasn't had the same level of violence that other conflicted areas of the country have, where the insurgents and the death squads have been more active. What we do know about this town is that it's mainly populated with Shiite ethnic Turks who are a minority.

The Associated Press quotes residents of Armili where the truck exploded, is saying "there was bad blood between the Turkmen in their town and Sunni-Arabs living in the surrounding villages."

ELLIOTT: Now, there were also reports today from the U.S. military of more than American deaths. Where did those occur?

BURNETT: Right. The U.S. military reported there were two soldiers killed and two wounded yesterday by an improvised explosive device. They were on a walking patrol in an area south of Baghdad and on - same day yesterday, two other soldiers died in east Baghdad and then three were injured, again from an IED that blew up their combat patrol. Both patrols are part of a U.S. offensive or a surge to bring more security to the violent areas of the country.

ELLIOTT: John, the Iraqi parliamentary has been working on a new oil law for the country, and members of the U.S. Congress have been demanding progress on this issue. Any progress to report?

BURNETT: Well, Washington wants to see the Iraqi parliament approve several pieces of important legislation as benchmarks to prove that they can make progress toward political power sharing.

So in the last week, there's been a lot of activity around a new oil law. Iraq sits on top of the world's third-largest oil reserves and the parliament has to decide how all three ethnic groups here - the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds - will share that oil wealth and then how much participation they'll allow in the oil industry by foreign companies.

So you can imagine this is an incredibly sensitive issue because billions of dollars and oil revenues are at stake. But the oil law, it's going nowhere fast because they can't even get a quorum. Shiite politicians loyal to the anti-American cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr, had boycotted the parliament saying the oil law is unfair. And then the largest bloc of Sunni politicians is also boycotting the parliament over an unrelated issue.

So add to that, a fatwa, or a religious edict, was issued this week by the Association of Muslim Scholars, which opposes the American presence in Iraq. They declared that whoever votes for the proposed oil law will, quote, "be exposed to God's wrath."

ELLIOTT: NPR's John Burnett in Baghdad. Thank you.

BURNETT: My pleasure, Debbie.

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Bombing Takes High Toll in Shiite Farm Town

A suicide bomber detonated a truck full of explosives in the market of a Shiite farm town Saturday, killing more than 100 people and levelling nearby mud-brick buildings, police officials said.

Separately, eight American troops and a British soldier were killed in fighting over two days.

The blast north of Baghdad, 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 the capital where security is thinner.

Saturday morning's explosion ripped through a market in Armili. Farmers' pickup trucks drove victims 30 miles to the nearest hospital, in Tuz Khormato.

Authorities and residents spent hours digging bodies out of the rubble of two dozen shops and houses, police said. Accounts of the final toll varied, hampered by the difficulty of the search and the town's remote location.

Abdullah Jabara, the deputy governor of Salahuddin province, told state-run Iraqiya television that 115 people died — nearly three-quarters of them women, children and elderly. He blamed al-Qaida.

Police Col. Sherzad Abdullah, an officer in the Tuz Khormato police, also said 115 were killed and some 200 wounded. Tuz Khormato's police chief, Col. Abbas Mohammed Amin, put the toll at 150 dead.

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 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 surrounding villages. Iraqi security presence is scant in the region, in a remote corner of Salahuddin province.

The night before, a suicide bomber detonated a boobytrapped car at a funeral in the Shiite Kurdish village of Zargosh, in neighboring Diyala province, police said.

The blast killed 22 people and wounded 17, said the head of Diyala provincial council, Ibrahim Bajilan, and a police official in the provincial capital of Baqouba, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press. The village is home to about 30 Kurdish families who had been expelled under Saddam Hussein 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 Saturday, killing five soldiers and a civilian, police said.

The U.S. 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, U.S. forces are fighting 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.

American commanders acknowledge many insurgent leaders fled Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, just ahead of the U.S. assault there.

"Because of the recent American military operations, terrorists found a good hideout in Salahuddin province, especially in outlying areas where there aren't enough military forces," said Ahmed al-Jubouri, an aide of the province's governor.

The U.S. military on Saturday said four soldiers were killed a day earlier in two roadside bomb attacks on their patrols in Baghdad. soldier and an Iraqi interpreter were killed Friday when an explosively formed penetrator exploded near their patrol in southeastern Baghdad. Explosively formed penetrators are high-tech bombs that the U.S. believes are provided by Iran, a charge denied by Tehran.

On Thursday, two Marines were killed in western Anbar province and a soldier died in Baghdad, the latest military statement said.

Another soldier died Friday of non battle-related cause and his death is under investigation, the military said.

In the far south of Iraq, British troops came under heavy attack by militants in Basra, killing one soldier, the British military said Saturday.

Britain has withdrawn hundreds of troops from Iraq, leaving a force of around 5,500 based mainly on the fringes of Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, 340 miles southeast of Baghdad. British bases come under frequent mortar attacks from Shiite militias. The U.S. currently has about 155,000 troops in Iraq.

— The Associated Press

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