Car bomb hits Shiite stronghold as int'l conference opens

At least 20 people killed as international envoys met in the Iraqi capital.

iraq 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
iraq 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
A suicide car bomb struck Baghdad's Shiite militia stronghold Saturday, killing at least 20 people as international envoys met in the Iraqi capital to talk about stabilizing the violence-shattered country. The blast hit an Iraqi patrol in Sadr City at midday, scattering burning debris across a small bridge, witnesses said. An Associated Press reporter traveling with US troops nearby said the explosion showered shrapnel across a joint US-Iraq security station 300 meters (yards) away. The partially shattered windshield of a car landed at the gates of the compound. US military officials at the station said 20 people were killed in the attack. Iraqi police said as many as 48 were wounded. Home to about 2.5 million of Baghdad's poorest residents, Sadr City is the base for fighters allied to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. His militia, the Mahdi Army, has laid low in recent weeks during a US-Iraqi security crackdown under pressure from Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Hours earlier, Iraqi special forces teams backed by US soldiers detained six suspects believed to be a rogue members of the Mahdi Army, the US military said in a statement. The suspects were accused of coordinating and carrying out kidnappings and murders of Iraqi civilians, the statement said. In central Baghdad, two mortars fell near Iraq's Foreign Ministry, where envoys gathered for an international conference on how to quell the violence and bolster Iraq's government. There were no reports of injuries, but smoke was visible from the meeting area. Meanwhile, Iraqi officials said they were holding a top al-Qaida official, but not the terror mastermind Abu Omar al-Baghdadi who they believed was captured a day earlier. "After preliminary investigations, it was proven that the arrested al-Qaida person is not Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, but, in fact, another important al-Qaida official," said Brig. Gen. Qassim al-Mousawi, an Iraqi military spokesman. "Interrogations and investigations are still under way to get more information," he said. Al-Mousawi declined to give the suspect's name on Saturday. It was al-Mousawi who announced late Friday that al-Baghdadi had been captured. A senior adviser to the prime minister also had told the AP that al-Baghdadi had been taken into custody. The adviser spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information. Al-Mousawi said the suspect at first identified himself as al-Baghdadi, and that his identity was corroborated by another man captured with him. The reported arrest followed rumors this week that al-Baghdadi's brother had been arrested in a raid near Tikrit. Almost nothing is known of al-Baghdadi, including his real name and what he looks like; his capture would be difficult for officials to verify. He is believed to lead the shadowy Islamic State of Iraq, an al-Qaida-inspired group that challenged the authority of Iraq's elected government. He has also signed militant messages posted online, as the leader of the Mujahedeen Shura Council - an umbrella group that includes al-Qaida in Iraq. An alleged member of the Islamic State of Iraq was among 27 suspects detained in US raids across Iraq overnight, the US military said. One suspect was killed and 18 were detained in Taji, an area on the northern outskirts of Baghdad, the military said in a statement. Eight suspects were captured in Mosul, 360 kilometers (225 miles) northwest of Baghdad, and one was detained in Ramadi,115 kilometers (70 miles) west of Baghdad, it said. Also Saturday, the US military said it was investigating the shooting of three Iraqis in Baghdad's Azamiyah neighborhood. American paratroopers fired on a vehicle when it failed to respond to warning signals, the military said in a statement. Three Iraqis were killed and three others were wounded in Friday's incident, it said. In other violence, a roadside bomb killed three Iraqi policemen and wounded another Saturday in central Ramadi, police said. Gunmen opened fire Saturday on Shiite pilgrims in Latifiyah, about 35 kilometers (20 miles) south of Baghdad, police said. One person was killed and three were wounded. Later, two more pilgrims were killed in shootings in eastern Baghdad, police said. The pilgrims were on their way back from a Shiite shrine in Karbala, where millions of faithful were performing rites this weekend for Arbaeen, a holiday that marks the end of a 40-day mourning period after the death anniversary of the Prophet Muhammad's grandson. Some 340 people, mostly Shiite pilgrims en route to Karbala, were killed in sectarian attacks this past week.