Iraq Closes Borders With Syria And Iran

Tuesday, February 13th 2007, 8:44 am
By: News On 6

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ Iraq will close its borders with Syria and Iran for 72 hours as part of the drive to secure and pacify Baghdad, the Iraqi commander of the crackdown said Tuesday, hours after a suicide bombing in a mainly Shiite neighborhood killed at least 15 people.

Lt. Gen. Abboud Gambar, addressing the nation on behalf of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, did not say when the borders would be closed. A government official said it was expected within two days.

The government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said the borders with Iran would only be partially reopened even after the 72-hour period ended.

The U.S. military announced last week that the sweep was already in progress. But an al-Maliki aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, said the operation had not yet begun, as far as the Iraqi government was concerned.

The U.S. military said a soldier was killed Sunday in fighting in volatile Anbar province, west of Baghdad, raising to 42 the number of American deaths this month.

Tuesday's suicide truck bombing, which also wounded 27 people, was the latest in a series of attacks since the announcement of the security crackdown aimed at stopping the sectarian violence that has killed hundreds since the start of the year.

Witnesses said the suicide bomber drove his explosives-laden truck into cars parked on a street as people were entering a Trade Ministry office that administers ration cards for the area.

The office and warehouses storing sugar and other rationed foodstuffs are located next to the private College of Economic Sciences, but it was closed for midterm so no students were among the casualties, police said.

Haider Hussein, a student who lives in the district, said the bomber was driving a small blue Kia truck.

``The explosion was so huge that it broke the windows of nearby offices and houses,'' he said, adding that 34 parked cars were burned. ``I and some other people helped carry five wounded ministry guards to civilian cars that took them to the hospital.''

Police also discovered a booby-trapped ambulance about 500 yards away, but the explosives were defused.

Hours later, a parked car bomb exploded near a bakery in another predominantly Shiite area in southeastern Baghdad, killing four people and wounding four, police said.

On Monday, huge car bombs shattered the crowded Shorja marketplace _ Baghdad's oldest _ obliterating shops and stalls. The casualty toll from that blast rose slightly Tuesday to 81 killed and 172 wounded, according to officials at four hospitals where the victims were taken.

The blasts in three parked cars left bodies scattered among mannequins and other debris in pools of blood. Small fires burned for hours in the rubble-strewn street as firefighters battled blazes in two buildings.

Brig. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, the Interior Ministry spokesman, told state-run TV that an Iraqi and two foreigners were arrested in the Shorja market attack.

The attack appeared timed to coincide with the first anniversary _ on the Muslim lunar calendar _ of the bombing of a Shiite shrine in the town of Samarra north of Baghdad, an al-Qaida provocation that unleashed months of sectarian bloodletting.

The anniversary fell on Monday according to the Islamic lunar calendar, which has religious authorities set the start of each month. The Samarra attack took place on Feb. 22, 2006, according to the Western calendar.

On Sunday, joint U.S. and Iraqi forces temporarily sealed an adjacent neighborhood. The operation was part of the latest Baghdad security push to which President Bush has committed an additional 21,500 American troops. The U.S. military would not say if it had increased security patrols against potential violence on the Samarra anniversary.

The recent bombs apparently are part of a bid by Sunni insurgents to target Shiite commercial centers and livelihoods and kill as many people as possible.

The nation's main Sunni clerical organization, the Association of Muslims Scholars, condemned Monday's bombing. The association blamed the attack on ``criminals'' and ``external groups'' seeking to foment civil war.