BAGHDAD,(AP) – A suicide bomber attacked an Iraqi army recruitment center Wednesday, killing at least six people and wounding 20, in a northern city where coalition forces had routed insurgents in a major offensive this month.
The attacker detonated explosives hidden under his clothes while standing among the job applicants in Tal Afar, 150 kilometers (93 miles) east of the Syrian border and 420 kilometers (260 miles) northwest of Baghdad, said police Brig. Saeed Ahmed Al-Jibori.
The blast highlighted the difficulty of maintaining security in the towns in the large northwestern region stretching to the border, where insurgents are most active.
U.S. and Iraqi troops swept through Tal Afar in a Sept. 8-12 offensive, with Iraqi authorities claiming nearly 200 suspected militants were killed and 315 captured.
But when they completed the sweep, they discovered many of the insurgents had slipped out, some of them through a network of underground tunnels. Since then, the bulk of forces that participated in the offensive withdrew, though U.S. troops maintain a base and outposts in Tal Afar.
"Due to the security vacuum after the withdrawal of Iraqi police commandos from Tal Afar, the terrorists came back again," said Abbas al-Bayati, a parliament member and an ethnic Turkman, a community that has a large presence in Tal Afar.
The blast was similar to an attack a day earlier, in the town of Baqouba, 60 kilometers (35 miles) northeast of Baghdad, where a bomber strapped with explosives attacked a police recruitment center, killing nine Iraqis.
Soon after the Tal Afar offensive, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born, Sunni Arab leader of the al-Qaida in Iraq insurgent group declared all-out war on Iraq”s majority Shiites.
On Tuesday, Iraqi and U.S. forces announced they had shot and killed Abdullah Abu Azzam, the No. 2 leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, in a raid on a high-rise apartment building in Baghdad over the weekend. The coalition called Abu Azzam the mastermind of an escalation in suicide bombings that have claimed nearly 700 lives in Baghdad since April, and said he was the financial controller for foreign fighters who entered Iraq to join the insurgency.
Al-Qaeda in Iraq issued an Internet statement denying Abu Azzam was the group”s deputy leader, calling him "one of al-Qaeda”s many soldiers" and "the leader of one its battalions operating in Baghdad." The statement confirmed the Baghdad raid but said it was not certain yet whether he was killed.
Iraqi government spokesman Laith Kubba warned that insurgents would likely carry out revenge attacks for Abu Azzam”s death. He said the militant "was supervising on a daily basis almost all the attacks that happened in Baghdad… He was fully responsible for preparing and sending the car bombs that killed hundreds of innocent Iraqis."
With the Tal Afar blast, at least 72 people have been killed in attacks since Sunday Also Tuesday, U.S. Marines intercepted a suicide bomber who had succeeded in driving his explosives-packed vehicle into the capital”s heavily fortified Green Zone and reached within a kilometer (mile) of the U.S. Embassy there. The discovery raised concerns over security in what is supposed to be the most protected area in the capital, where U.S. and Iraqi government buildings and residences are located. A U.S. military spokesman confirmed the car was stopped within the zone Tuesday morning, saying the driver was arrested and the military later detonated the vehicle.
The driver was caught at a checkpoint on a road within the zone leading to the embassy, close to the home of Iraqi Vice President Ghazi al-Yawer, a security official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.
In southern Iraq, police found the badly decomposed bodies of 22 Iraqi men who had been shot to death and dumped in a field, many of them bound and blindfolded, said Police Lt. Othman al-Lami of the Wasit provincial police. He said the victims appeared to have been killed more than a month ago, and their identities were not immediately known, but the district, northeast of Kut, about 160 kilometers (100 miles) southeast of Baghdad, is mostly Shiite.
The U.S. military announced Wednesday that a Marine from the 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force died from a non-hostile gunshot wound two days earlier near Fallujah. The incident is under investigation.
The death brought to 1,919 the number of U.S. service members who have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.