Baghdad, Sep16: Suspected al Qaeda militants shot dead 14 people in the predominantly Sunni Arab town of Muqdadiya north of Baghdad on Sunday and torched at least 12 shops in the town, Iraqi police said.
In a wave of violence which followed an al Qaeda pledge to step up attacks, a suicide bomber also killed six people at a cafe in the northern town of Tuz Khurmato. In Baghdad, seven people were killed in three separate bombings.
An al Qaeda led group, the Islamic State in Iraq, said yesterday it was launching a new phase of attacks to mark the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which started late last week.
A sustained campaign of violence
A sustained campaign of violence would undermine US and Iraqi assertions that a seven-month security campaign had disrupted the Sunni Islamist al Qaeda's operations in and around the Iraqi capital.
Last week President George W Bush, announcing a limited withdrawal of around 20,000 US troops by July, said the cuts were possible because U.S. forces had made significant progress and ''ordinary life is beginning to return'' to Baghdad.
A senior US official said today al Qaeda had been ''neutralised inside Baghdad proper'', and was fractured and off-balance elsewhere. But he said it was still a threat. ''Al Qaeda remains dangerous and remains capable of significant attacks. Civilian death tolls are too high,'' Brigadier-General Joe Anderson, chief of staff of the Multinational Corps Iraq, told a news conference.
Suspected millitant cought
The US military also announced today it had caught a suspected al Qaeda militant, Fallah al-Jumayli, believed to be responsible for the killing last week of a key Sunni Arab tribal leader in Iraq's Anbar province.
Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, who met Bush two weeks ago in Anbar, was killed in a bomb attack on Thursday near his home. He led an alliance of Sunni Arab tribes that worked with US troops to push al Qaeda out of much of the vast desert area. ''Intelligence reports indicate al-Jumayli is involved in a plot to kill key leaders in the tribal awakening,'' the US statement said, referring to the tribal alliance.
The Islamic State in Iraq, believed to be a front for the main al Qaeda in Iraq network, warned it would target other tribal leaders who cooperated with security forces. Police said seven people were also wounded in the shootings in Muqdadiya, which lies in Diyala province where al Qaeda militants have had a strong presence.
The motive for the attack was unclear, but some Sunni Arab tribes in Diyala have begun to follow Abu Risha's example of cooperating with US and Iraqi security forces. In Tuz Khurmato, 180 km (110 miles) north of Baghdad, a bomber wearing a belt filled with explosives blew himself up at an outdoor cafe, killing six people and wounding 18.
The cafe was one of the few in the religiously and ethnically mixed town which was serving food during daylight hours in the holy month of Ramadan, when observant Muslims fast from dawn to dusk.