July 17, 2006 in Nation/World

Explosion at café kills 26 in Iraq

Robert H. Reid Associated Press

BAGHDAD, Iraq – A suicide bomber detonated explosives Sunday inside a café packed with Shiites in northern Iraq, killing 26 people and injuring 22, an Iraqi general said. Gunmen seized a top Oil Ministry official, the second major kidnapping in as many days.

The U.S. military said an American soldier was killed in a roadside bombing in south Baghdad. No further details were released.

In the south, a British soldier was killed and another wounded during a raid against a “terrorist suspect” in Basra, the British military said. British troops arrested a top Shiite militia leader in the city, Iraqi police said, but it was unclear if the two events were linked.

The suicide attack occurred about 8:30 p.m. in the outdoor market in Tuz Khormato, a mostly Turkomen city 130 miles north of Baghdad, said Maj. Gen. Anwar Mohammed Amin.

The blast collapsed the ceiling of the one-story café, burying many of the victims, witnesses said. Hours afterward, rescuers were still sifting through the debris looking for the dead or injured. Authorities used mosque loudspeakers to appeal for blood donations.

One of Iraq’s main ethnic groups, Turkomen follow both the Sunni and Shiite traditions of Islam. Amin said Shiites favored the café because it was near a Shiite mosque. But friction exists between Iraq’s Turkomen and Kurdish populations, and the motive for the attack was unclear.

In Baghdad, gunmen seized Adel Kazzaz, director of the North Oil Co., shortly after he left the Oil Ministry, ministry spokesman Assem Jihad said. They beat his bodyguards and whisked him away, Jihad said.

The government-owned North Oil Co. runs Iraq’s oil fields around the northern city of Kirkuk, and Kazzaz was in the capital for a meeting with ministry officials.

The northern fields have been plagued for years by sabotage of pipelines and other infrastructure. Oil exports were restored last month after a long delay but halted again last week and not expected to resume soon.

The high-profile kidnapping came one day after gunmen abducted the head of Iraq’s National Olympic Committee and 30 other people. Six were set free Sunday in eastern Baghdad, left blindfolded and unharmed, Iraq’s Sport Journalist Union said.

There was no word on the other hostages, including the Olympic National Committee chairman, Ahmed al-Hijiya.

A British military statement said the British soldier was mortally wounded during a raid to arrest terror suspects in a northern Basra neighborhood. British spokesman Maj. Charlie Burbridge said the operation involved a significant number of troops as well as helicopters and armored personnel carriers, and that two suspects were detained. He gave no further information.

In Basra, however, police officials said British troops had arrested Sajid Badir, leader of the Shiite-based Mahdi Army in the city. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of fears of retaliation by the militia group, which wields considerable power and has infiltrated the police.

Last May, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki declared a state of emergency in Basra, the country’s second-largest city and a major oil-producing center, vowing to wield an “iron fist” to end militia rule there.

Al-Maliki, a Shiite, is under strong pressure to disband the militias, including the Mahdi Army which is run by radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The militias are accused of fanning the flames of sectarian violence.

© Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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