BAGHDAD, (Reuters) – A car bomb killed 10 people and wounded 21 near a vegetable market in Baghdad on Wednesday, Iraqi police said, as insurgents kept up a campaign of bombings despite a security crackdown backed by U.S. reinforcements.
U.S. President George W. Bush is sending 21,500 extra troops to Iraq, most to Baghdad, where Iraqi and U.S. patrols and security outposts have been stepped up in a bid to halt sectarian violence that was killing hundreds of people a week.
As part of efforts to stabilise Iraq, Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said on Tuesday officials from regional states including Iran and Syria would join U.S. and British envoys at a meeting in Baghdad next month.
The United States said it would attend, opening the way to a dialogue that critics have long demanded.
In the latest bomb attack on Wednesday, police said a car bomb exploded on a commercial street in the Bayaa neighbourhood of the Iraqi capital, killing 10 people.
Iraqi security force spokesman Brigadier Qassim Moussawi said in the past week 30 militants had been killed and 305 known insurgents detained along with 304 other suspects. “In general the level of terrorist operations has notably decreased,” he told reporters on Wednesday.
A report of a bomb killing 18 people, mostly children, on Tuesday in the Iraqi city of Ramadi was wrong and stemmed from confusion over a similar attack the day before blamed on al Qaeda, police officials and residents said on Wednesday.
Washington accuses Iran and Syria of fuelling the violence in Iraq and has spurned suggestions — including in the December report of a high-level Iraq Study Group — that recommended reaching out to both to try to stabilise Iraq.
Washington brands both countries state sponsors of terrorism and says Iranian elements have provided sophisticated roadside bombs used in Iraq. The United States accuses Syria of fanning the strife by failing to control its border.
Zebari said an initial meeting in mid-March would be a chance for Western and regional powers to try to bridge some of their differences on Iraq. “Our hope is that this will be an ice-breaking attempt for maybe holding other meetings in the future. We want Iraq, instead of being a divisive issue, to be a unifying issue,” Zebari said by telephone from Denmark where he is on a visit.
The State Department would not rule out the possibility U.S. officials might hold bilateral talks with Iranians on the sidelines of the conferences — a mid-level meeting in March and a ministerial meeting that may be held in April. But the White House played down the chances of such talks, stressing its position that Iran first suspend uranium enrichment that the United States believes is aimed at developing a nuclear weapon, a charge Tehran denies.