Iraqi Interior Ministry Raises Death Toll In Tal Afar Truck Bombing To 152

Saturday, March 31st 2007, 5:40 pm
By: News On 6

BAGHDAD (AP) _ The Iraqi Interior Ministry on Saturday raised the death toll in last week's suicide truck bombing against a Shiite market in Tal Afar to 152, which would make it the deadliest single strike since the war started four years ago.

A spokesman for the Shiite-dominated ministry Brig. Abdul-Karim Khalaf said the number nearly doubled from previous estimates after more bodies were pulled from the rubble in the northwestern city.

However, the U.S. military and the mayor of Tal Afar, speaking at a separate news conference on Saturday, kept the death toll at 83 as reported in the days after the blast. But they acknowledged the figure could rise as recovery efforts continued.

``We're still doing rubble removal so there could still be bodies buried,'' Lt. Col. Malcom Frost, commander of U.S. forces in the area, told reporters in Baghdad during a joint video teleconference with Mayor Najim Abdullah.

The new details emerged as more violence struck Baghdad and areas to the north and the south, with at least nine people killed in car bombings. The number of Iraqis killed in the past seven days surged to nearly 550 despite a U.S.-Iraqi security sweep now in its seventh week.

In the Tal Afar attack, a second truck exploded elsewhere at about the same time in the religiously mixed Turkomen city. But officials at the time said only one person was killed in that blast and it was apparently not included in the updated count.

Officials said the driver in the main attack lured people to the site by telling them he was distributing free flour as humanitarian aid. The bombing caused surrounding buildings to collapse, leaving huge piles of concrete and bricks.

The explosion, which was blamed on al-Qaida in Iraq, led to angry reprisal shootings against Sunnis, and the officials said at least 45 people were killed in the rampage.

The Interior Ministry figure would make the bombing the deadliest single strike since the war started, but there have been several multi-pronged attacks that were larger, including a series of mortar rounds and car bombs that killed 215 people in the Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City in Baghdad on Nov. 23, 2006.

Provincial police chief Wathiq al-Hamdani, meanwhile, said 18 policemen who were detained after the shooting spree that took place after the bombings were being questioned as part of an investigation.

He also said the city's police chief had been replaced after he was accused of dereliction of duties.

The deadliest blast on Saturday was a parked car bomb that exploded amid street vendors and pedestrians near a hospital in the Shiite militia stronghold of Sadr City. Police said at least five people were killed and 15 injured.

A plume of black smoke rose from the scene while firemen sprayed water on smoldering cars.

Another parked car bomb struck a gas station in the Shiite city of Hillah, killing at least two people and wounding 32, provincial police said.

Gunmen later set fire to four stores owned by a Sunni businessman in the nearby mainly Shiite town of Jebala, police said. The stores were closed and no casualties were reported, but the attacks appeared to be part of a trend of increasing retaliatory sectarian violence outside Baghdad

In northern Iraq, a car exploded after the driver parked it near Iraqis looking for work in the center of Tuz Khormato, 130 miles north of Baghdad. The driver and two workers were killed and 11 others wounded in the attack, police Col. Abbas Mohammed Amin said. He said the driver intended to wait until more workers had gathered before detonating the explosives but they went off prematurely, preventing a higher casualty toll.

Gunmen also opened fire on a minibus carrying construction workers home from work at an Iraqi army camp south of Kirkuk, 180 miles north of Baghdad. Nine were killed and one was injured, police said.