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Suicide truck bomber kills 18 in N.Iraq attack

Written by: Staff

BAGHDAD, June 21 (Reuters) A suicide bomber killed at least 18 people today when he rammed a truck into a government building in northern Iraq, partially knocking it down and demolishing nearby homes, police said.

Women, children and policemen were among the victims and many of them were buried in the rubble, police said.

The attack took place in Sulaiman Bek, a town about 90 km (55 miles) south of the city of Kirkuk that sits on the main road connecting Baghdad to the north.

A police captain in the town, Kudhaie Mohammed, said the truck bomber had driven into a government compound housing the local municipal headquarters and the city council.

He said 18 people had been killed and 76 wounded in the blast.

Other police sources in the nearby town of Tuz Khurmato put the toll at 15.

Mechanical diggers were being used to unearth victims from the rubble, police said.

Sulaiman Bek, a mixed town of Arabs, ethnic Kurds and Turkmen, has witnessed a rise in violence in recent months as military convoys using the Baghdad road come under attack, police said.

Near Baghdad, thousands of US and Iraqi soldiers pushed ahead with simultaneous offensives aimed at rooting out al Qaeda fighters in one of the biggest operations since the 2003 US-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein.

The aim of the offensives, which follow the build-up of US military forces in Iraq to 156,000 soldiers, is to deny militants sanctuary in the lush farmlands and towns surrounding Baghdad, epicentre of Iraq's bloody sectarian violence.

TWO US SOLDIERS KILLED The US military said two US soldiers taking part in Operation Marne Torch, the offensive targeting Baghdad's southern flank, were killed yesterday when roadside bombs exploded near their vehicle.

Four others were wounded.

It said 60 suspects had been detained. Troops had also destroyed 17 boats used to transport bomb parts to Baghdad on the Tigris River, which splits the capital in two, and seized weapons caches.

North of Baghdad, some 10,000 US and Iraqi troops assaulted al Qaeda hideouts in an operation focused on Baquba, the volatile capital of Diyala province. That operation has already killed 41 suspected militants over the past three days.

''Our combined forces have begun destroying al Qaeda operatives and their resources in and around Diyala province,'' said Brigadier-General Mick Bednarek, deputy commanding general for US military operations in northern Iraq.

The US military said some al Qaeda militants had been killed or captured trying to escape Baquba. Six had been arrested trying to flee in an ambulance. US troops had also blown up at least five booby-trapped houses.

The military said it was investigating one incident in which a bomb dropped by a US aircraft missed a booby-trapped house and hit another structure, wounding 11 people.

US President George W Bush has sent 28,000 extra soldiers to help curb sectarian bloodshed and buy Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki time to reach a political accommodation with disaffected minority Sunni Arabs, who are locked in a cycle of violence with majority Shi'ite Muslims.

The top US general in Iraq, General David Petraeus, and US Ambassador Ryan Crocker are due to deliver a report in September and make recommendations. Analysts say it will be a watershed in the unpopular four-year-old war.


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