TAL AFAR, Iraq – Iraq’s prime minister toured the ancient northern city of Tal Afar on Monday – ignoring an alleged al-Qaida threat to strike with chemical weapons – to congratulate Iraqi forces for rousting militants from their stronghold near Syria, Iraqi television reported.
In Baghdad, a huge car bomb exploded outside a popular restaurant in the upscale Mansour neighborhood Monday night, witnesses said. Hospital officials reported at least two people were killed and 17 wounded. A doctor at Yarmouk Hospital said most of the victims were women.
Al-Iraqiya television, which showed no pictures, said Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari was in the Tal Afar area despite an insurgent threat to unleash chemical and biological weapons against the force of 5,000 Iraqi soldiers and commandos, backed by 3,500 troops from the U.S. 3rd Armored Cavalry regiment, who stormed into the city Saturday.
The offensive “was a great shock to al-Qaida. They were thrown off balance and issued this threat. We will be on the lookout,” said Interior Minister Bayan Jabr.
Militant positions were found mainly deserted Sunday, and the invading force discovered a network of tunnels below the city through which the insurgents were believed to have fled to the surrounding countryside.
The offensive, however, left almost 200 suspected militants dead and more than 315 captured, Iraqi military officials said.
Forty insurgents were killed in fierce clashes between militants and Iraqi troops who raided suspected hideouts late Monday afternoon. The raids were launched in response to a roadside bombing that targeted an Iraqi patrol earlier in the day.