BAGHDAD - A bomb killed 34 people in Baghdad's Sadr City Shi'ite
slum on Saturday as Iraq's minority Sunnis began the fasting month of Ramadan,
which U.S. commanders said might see a rise in sectarian bloodshed.
The bomb -- most likely a car bomb, according to police -- struck near a
tanker distributing kerosene for stoves in Sadr City, whose two million or more
poor residents are the power base of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mehdi Army
Among other violent incidents across the country, police in Tikrit said
gunmen had beheaded nine people including some policemen after dragging them out
of two cars in a nearby town.
Three U.S. soldiers were killed by two roadside bombs, in Baghdad and near
the violent northern oil city of Kirkuk, and an American working for the State
Department and a Danish soldier died in attacks around the Shi'ite southern city
In addition to the 34 people killed in Sadr City, 35 were injured, many badly
burned. Sunnis claimed responsibility, declaring the attack revenge for killings
by Shi'ite militia.
"This operation comes in reaction to the crimes of the Mehdi Army against our
Sunni kin in Baghdad," the Jamaat Jund al-Sahaba -- Soldiers of the Prophet's
Companions -- said in a claim posted on the Internet. "Our swords can reach the
depth of your areas, so stop killing unarmed Sunnis."
U.S. commanders had warned for weeks that they expected a surge of violence
to accompany the holy lunar month, having observed similar patterns in previous
Shi'ites and Sunnis have separate systems for declaring Ramadan's start; most
Sunnis began observing it on Saturday and most Iraqi Shi'ites are expected to
begin on Monday.
The Americans say they are determined to end sectarian killings in Baghdad,
which have soared since an attack on a Shi'ite shrine in Samarra in February.
They have put in place a system of checkpoints and some fortifications around
its perimeter, expected to be ready in the next few days.
In a six-week-old security crackdown in the capital, a division of 15,000
American soldiers has secured scattered neighborhoods and is due to move into
more. They say killings are fewer in the zones they have targeted.
But though data are scant, violence in the city as a whole has seemed, if
anything, to worsen over the past two weeks. Hundreds of bodies have been found
on the streets showing signs of torture and attacks on U.S. troops have been
A senior U.S. military official said the American force in Baghdad is not big
enough to secure the city on its own.
"That would take a lot more forces to do that," he said. "That would take
Iraqi security forces."
The U.S. commander of the Baghdad operation, Major General James Thurman,
said on Friday the Iraqi government had failed to deliver some 3,000 men he had
asked for as reinforcements.
The Iraqi Army said it seized a leader of al Qaeda-allied militant group
Ansar al-Sunna. Brigadier Qasim al-Moussawi told Reuters that Muntasir
al-Jibouri -- held with two others overnight in a village near Muqdadiya, 80 km
(50 miles) northeast of Baghdad -- was Ansar's leader in Diyala province.
The group denied any leader was arrested and, in an Internet posting, claimed
the killing of 10 South Asian Shi'ites in Iraq.
Other Sunni militants also distributed violent videos. One, aired on the
Arabiya television network, was apparently the first to show the new leader of
al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Ayub al- Masri also known as Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, since
he replaced Abu Mussab al Zarqawi, killed by U.S. forces in June.
The station said Masri shot dead a Turkish prisoner on the tape, but did not
broadcast the killing or any sound.
Another video, which appeared on the Internet, purported to show the bodies
of two U.S. soldiers being dragged behind a truck and burned, after they were
captured near Baghdad in June.
A spokesman for the Accordance Front party said its leaders met Shi'ite Prime
Minister Nuri al-Maliki to urge protection for Sunnis after gunmen attacked a
Sunni area in Baghdad on Friday.
Maliki has vowed to use his new security forces to curb militias but it is
unclear if he can make good on his promise.