TIKRIT, Iraq (AFP) – Two suicide bombers blasted fuel-laden trucks against the homes of a police chief and a tribal leader in the Iraqi city of Baiji on Tuesday, killing 19 people and wounding about 50, police said.
Police chief Colonel Saad al-Nifous and Thamer Ibrahim Atallah, a head of the Salaheddin Awakening Council, had been at the forefront of fighting Al-Qaeda in central Salaheddin province.
The trucks, loaded with barrels of gasoline, exploded within minutes of each other about a kilometre (mile) apart at 6 am (0300 GMT), police commander Ali al-Bijwari told AFP.
The US military was deployed near the site of the attack in Baiji, around 200 kilometres (125 miles) north of Baghdad, Bijwari added.
The attacks come a day after a suicide bomber killed 14 people when he exploded his truck at a police post near another town in Salaheddin province, Samarra, midway between Baiji and Baghdad.
Al-Qaeda in Iraq had warned it would ramp up attacks during the holy month of Ramadan, which is drawing to a close. It also warned it would target Iraqis who have joined US forces in fighting local members of Osama bin Laden’s global jihadist group.
Among the dead in Tuesday’s twin bomb attacks were four women and three children, police official Bijwari said. He was not able to say exactly how many were killed and wounded in each incident.
The first bomb exploded in a fireball at the home of police chief Nifous, killing at least seven people, including his uncle and two nephews. The officer escaped unharmed but his house was partially damaged.
Minutes later, a second suicide truck bomber crashed his explosives-packed truck into the house of Atallah, who escaped the attack. The identities of those killed and wounded were not immediately clear.
A small mosque next to the house collapsed under the impact of the blast.
Atallah is the third member of the Salaheddin Awakening Council, a coalition of tribes in the Tikrit district formed to fight Al-Qaeda, to come under attack in less than a week.
Last Thursday, a roadside bomb near Samarra killed the leader of the council, Sheikh Maawia Naji Jebara, and wounded his deputy Sheikh Sabah Mutashar al-Shimmary.
The attack on their convoy was claimed by an Al-Qaeda group in a statement posted on the Internet.
Shimmary had recently told AFP that his group was making headway against Al-Qaeda fighters.
“Our forces are working in coordination with the ministers of defence and interior and have conducted more than 100 combat duties against Al-Qaeda,” Shimmary said.
“We arrested some Arab terrorists including one Saudi … our troops consist of 3,000 fighters distributed across seven headquarters in the province.”
Leading Iraqi Sunni cleric Harith al-Dhari has urged Iraqis not to join US forces in fighting Al-Qaeda, arguing that by doing so they are siding with the occupier.
“A decision to stand beside the occupying enemy in order to achieve a wish to stay in Iraq under the pretext of destroying Al-Qaeda is neither accepted legally nor on patriotic or rational grounds,” said Dhari, head of the influential Muslim Scholars’ Association.
“We do not accept the acts of Al-Qaeda,” Dhari said in an interview with Qatari-based television channel Al-Jazeera posted Tuesday on the website of the Muslim Scholars’ Association, Iraq’s main Sunni clerics’ organisation.
“We reject their ideas but Al-Qaeda remains part of us and we are part of it. Ninety percent of Al-Qaeda members are now Iraqis,” he added.
Tuesday’s attack comes almost four weeks after prominent tribal leader Sheikh Abdul Sattar Abu Reesha was killed by a roadside bomb in Ramadi, capital of western Anbar province.
Abu Reesha was the pioneer of the so-called Awakening process which is spreading across the country whereby tribesmen are banding together and joining US forces to chase Al-Qaeda out of their districts.
Abu Reesha died on September 13, one day short of the first anniversary of the founding of his Anbar Awakening Conference, an anti-Qaeda coalition of 42 Anbari tribes.
His assassination too was claimed by Al-Qaeda, which warned it would target others involved in similar initiatives alongside the US military.