BAGHDAD (Reuters) - At least eight car bombs exploded across Iraq on Monday killing about 30 people as insurgents defied a widespread U.S.-Iraqi security clampdown.
In the Kurdish city of Arbil, a suicide bomber drove his car into a crowd of police recruits, killing at least 12 and wounding about 100 on a soccer field, officials said.
A second such attack in the normally more tranquil Kurdish region killed the security chief of the town of Halabja while another on an Iraqi army checkpoint in the disputed oil city of Kirkuk, just outside Kurdistan, killed four soldiers.
Five car bombs blew up in Baghdad, targeting mostly Iraqi police and soldiers. One struck the notorious airport road.
The wave of violence came as two influential U.S. senators criticised fellow Republican President George W. Bush's handling of the two-year-old war and said Americans needed to be told that U.S. troops faced a "long, hard slog" in Iraq.
The Arbil bombing was the second time in six weeks that such a big bomb has shattered the relative peace of the north, where a regional president was sworn in last week. In early May a suicide bomber killed 46 police recruits in the city.
On Monday, a crowd of around 200 traffic police recruits had gathered for roll call in a dusty field behind the police headquarters when the suicide bomber raced his red vehicle towards them and blew up among them as they scattered.
"Some people were running away but others couldn't move and the car blew up," said Raeder Mohammed, one of the trainees.
The security chief of Halabja was killed along with three bodyguards when a suicide bomber drove at their vehicle, local security officials said. They died near a memorial to the civilian victims of the 1988 poison gas attack that made Halabja a byword for Saddam Hussein's oppressive rule.
In Kirkuk, which Kurds want for the capital despite rival claims from Arabs and Turkish-speakers, four soldiers were killed when a suicide car bomber rammed their checkpoint.
Those attacks followed a major pre-dawn raid by insurgents on a police station in southwest Baghdad, where they detonated two car bombs and then ambushed Iraqi police and troops who came to help a U.S. unit that also came under fire.
The U.S. military said five police and soldiers were killed and 20 wounded in the complex attack, which only subsided after U.S. air and ground support was called in. Iraqi police at the scene told Reuters 18 insurgents were killed and 14 captured.
Al Qaeda in Iraq, the group led by Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, claimed responsibility in a Web posting.
It was not the first time a Baghdad police station has been attacked, but the assault appeared particularly brazen coming during Operation Lightning, a high-profile sweep by around 40,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops and police in the city.
Two more car bombs targeted Iraqi police in the Mansour district of western Baghdad, Iraq's Defence Ministry said, and a fifth blew up at a checkpoint on the road to Baghdad airport. Police said four Iraqis died in the latter blast, one of many to hit the main link between Baghdad and the outside world.
The series of explosions came a day after 23 people, many of them police and security guards, were killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up in a busy restaurant, the worst bombing in Baghdad in six weeks. Zarqawi's group also claimed that.
Zarqawi, for whom Washington is offering a $25 million bounty, has come to symbolise the U.S. military's struggle to bring order to Iraq. The perceived failure to make inroads against him and the broader Iraqi insurgency may have hit Bush's approval ratings, a recent poll indicated.
Another U.S. soldier died on Monday after being hit in a roadside bomb blast in the northern town of Tal Afar, raising to at least 1,720 the number of troops to have died in the war.
However, U.S. Marine commanders declared a success in an offensive on foreign fighters in the deserted Syrian border town of Karabila, saying 45 to 50 had been killed for the loss of one Marine dead and six wounded over four days of Operation Spear.
They highlighted the role of Iraqi troops in the raids -- the new army carries with it Washington's hopes of withdrawal.
A reminder of the urgent need for reconstruction in Iraq came on the eve of a high-level conference in Brussels where the United States and European Union will press others to match debt relief for Baghdad as a way of strengthening the economy.
Half of the capital's 4 million people are now without fresh water in temperatures above 40 Celsius. The mayor blamed saboteurs and said the problem would be fixed.
Hopes of order and prosperity, raised after an election in January, have yet to be fulfilled, leaving many Iraqis angry and frustrated and complicating the job of the new government.
(Additional reporting by Shamal Aqrawi in Arbil, Twana Osman in Sulaimaniya, Aref Mohammed in Kirkuk, Peter Graff in Karabila and Waleed Ibrahim and Alastair Macdonald in Baghdad)
Did you find this article insightful?