BAGHDAD - Car bombs and gunmen struck new US allies, police and civilians Sunday in northern Iraq, killing as many as 53 people. The spate of attacks came even as the American military released a captured diary and another document they say show al-Qaida in Iraq cracking under a Sunni revolt against its brutal tactics.
An Iraqi girl comforts her younger sister as US Army soldiers with the 2nd Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment and Iraqi police check the papers of their father during a house search in the Azamiyah neighborhood in north Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday, Feb. 10, 2008. [Agencies]
The violence coincided with a visit by Defense Secretary Robert Gates to Baghdad, where he warned that hard choices face Iraq's political leaders on how to stabilize the country despite promising new signs of progress toward reconciliation.
The deadliest bombing on Sunday was near Balad, 50 miles north of Baghdad, against a checkpoint manned jointly by Iraqi police and members of an awakening group.
Iraqi police said a suicide truck bomber targeted a checkpoint manned by US-allied fighters and Iraqi police at the entrance of a bridge in the district of Yathrib on the outskirts of Balad. Security forces opened fire on the driver, but he managed to detonate his payload, devastating a nearby car market and other stores.
Police in the joint coordination center of the surrounding Salahuddin province and hospital officials said 34 people were killed and 37 others were wounded. Capt. Kadim Hamid said many residents in the predominantly Sunni area had removed victims directly from the site because they feared going to the hospital in Balad's mostly Shiite center.
The US military put the casualty toll at 23 killed, 25 wounded and said a car bomb exploded near an Iraqi checkpoint in a market in Balad, but it did not confirm it was a suicide attack. US and Iraqi forces had secured the area and the wounded had been evacuated to hospitals, according to a statement.
It was one of the worst bombings this year amid a recent lull in violence and underscored US warnings that al-Qaida in Iraq remains a serious threat despite military offensives that have severely curtailed its operations.