24 die in Iraq peace meeting blast
From CNN’s Mohammed Tawfeeq
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) — A suicide bombing in Iraq’s volatile Diyala province ripped through a “reconciliation meeting” on Monday night attended by Sunni and Shiite militia leaders — a brazen attack that killed and wounded dozens and fractured an effort to foster amity between the rival sects.
A U.S. soldier controls the area from a rooftop during an operation Monday in the suburbs of Baquba.
Iraq’s Interior Ministry and the U.S. military counted 24 dead and 37 wounded.
Interior Ministry officials, who have been providing updates about the attack since it occurred, said the attacker detonated a suicide belt inside the Shifta Shiite mosque in western Baquba during the daily breaking of the Ramadan fast.
Abstention from eating is religious duty for Muslims during the present holy month of Ramadan and the hiatus is broken during an evening meal.
Families recovered bodies from the local morgue on Tuesday and funerals were held in Shifta for both the Shiites and Sunnis, who were among the dead.
The dead included Baquba police Chief Ali al-Deylan and Brig. Gen. Abdul Karim al-Obaidi, commander of Diyala’s police operations — both Sunnis. Another slain official was Ahmed al-Tamimi, the head of the local Shiite Endowment, which administers Shiite religious facilities in the province.
Two guards of the Diyala’s Shiite governor, Raad Rashid Mullah Jawad, were killed. Rashid was wounded, and one of the two slain guards was Rashid’s brother.
They had been attending the meal with members of the United Jihad Factions Council, a Sunni coalition of militias, and Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army — a powerful Shiite militia. They were sitting down in an effort to bridge their differences when the strike occurred.
The United Jihad Factions Council leaders, includes the Islamic Army, the 1920 Revolution Brigades and other one-time insurgent groups that are now cooperating with U.S. and Iraqi security forces.
Others slain in the bombing were members of two of the council’s factions — Sheik Ahmed al-Tamer, one of the 1920 Revolution Brigades leaders, and Sheikh Kanaan al-Faraj, a leader of a Sunni militia called Hamas al-Iraq Brigades.
At least 28 others were wounded in the strike, which at least one Shiite sheik is blaming on al Qaeda in Iraq, the homegrown Sunni-dominated insurgent group that gets its inspiration from Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda terror network.
The U.S. military on Tuesday issued a statement about the incident, calling the breaking of the fast meal “a brotherhood festival” that included more than 800 people, including senior provincial leaders, coalition forces, as well as Shiites, Sunnis, and various tribal leaders.
It blamed the attack on al Qaeda in Iraq and said it occurred outside of the mosque. Al Qaeda in Iraq, the homegrown Sunni-dominated insurgent group that gets its inspiration from Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda terror network.
“Once again, al Qaida demonstrated the hatred they have for the citizens of Iraq by conducting a despicable attack against its people during one of their most revered celebrations — Ramadan,” said Col. David W. Sutherland, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division commander, whose remarks were quoted in the military statement.
Diyala province — which sprawls north and east of Baghdad — has been a major front in the Iraq war since the U.S. troop escalation called the “surge” began earlier this month. U.S. and Iraqi forces in recent months have embarked on offensives targeting al Qaeda in Iraq.
Iraqi and U.S. officials, attempting to end the country’s Sunni-Shiite sectarian strife, have been trying to promote reconciliation efforts across Iraq. Such efforts have been well-publicized in Anbar province west of Baghdad but they have been occurring in other areas, such as Diyala and Baghdad as well.
In other developments, bombs ripped through two commercial areas in Baghdad Tuesday, killing seven people, Iraq’s Interior Ministry told CNN.
Two parked car bombs exploded in quick succession in the southeastern mixed neighborhood of Zayouna, killing six people and wounding 24 others.
The incident occurred on a busy commercial stretch. A roadside bomb in the Kamaliya neighborhood of eastern Baghdad killed one person and wounded three others.
The incident took place near an outdoor market in the Shiite neighborhood.
Another roadside bombing wounded seven people, including a police officer in the central neighborhood of Karrada. U.S. soldiers have sealed off an area where a roadside bomb exploded near a U.S. convoy in the northwestern Baghdad neighborhood of Kadhimiya.
The government, and in some instances, US forces, have been arranging such “reconciliation meetings” in Baghdad and the provinces, usually to bring peace to areas that witnessed sectarian violence. Al-Arabiya.net said that the head of the Shi’a endowment in Ba’quba was also killed in the attack. Aljazeera.net claimed that representatives of the 1920 Revolution Brigades were present in the meeting.