Dozens killed in Iraq suicide attacks

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The Independent Online

Suicide bombers killed 65 worshippers at two mosques in eastern Iraq today while in Baghdad two car bombs destroyed the blast wall protecting a hotel housing foreign journalists and killed eight Iraqis.

The suicide attackers targeted the Sheik Murad mosque and the Khaniqin Grand Mosque - both homes to Shiite Muslims - in Khanaqin, 140 kilometres northeast of Baghdad, as dozens of people were attending prayers, police said.

The police command said 65 people were killed and 75 injured in the largely Kurdish town.

The blast near the Hamra hotel in Baghdad knocked down the blast walls protecting the hotel and blew out windows, but did no structural damage.

"What we have here appears to be two suicide car bombs (that) attempted to breach the security wall in the vicinity of the hotel complex and I think the target was the Hamra Hotel," US Brig. Gen. Karl Horst told reporters at the scene.

The blasts - less than a minute apart - reverberated throughout the city centre, sending a mushroom cloud hundreds of feet into the air, followed by sporadic small arms fire. At first the target appeared to be an Interior Ministry building nearby where US troops found about 170 detainees, some of whom appeared to be tortured.

Several residential buildings collapsed from the blast, which gouged a large crater in the road. Firefighters and US troops joined neighbours to dig through the debris and under toppled blast barriers to pull victims from the rubble.

The blasts appear to be the second attack against a hotel housing international journalists.

A leader of a major Sunni party, Tariq al-Hashimi, told Iraq's Sharqiyah television that his group had submitted 50 complaints of prisoner abuse to the government "but we did not receive a timely response."

However, Interior Minister Bayn Jabr, a Shiite, brushed aside the complaints, denied sectarian bias and claimed that "every time" al-Hashimi has differences with him "he exerts pressure on me through the US Embassy."

"I reject torture and I will punish those who perform torture," Jabr said. "No one was beheaded, no one was killed" - a clear reference to the beheadings of foreign and Iraqi hostages by insurgents including al-Qaida's Iraq wing.

He also said "those who are supporting terrorism are making the exaggerations" about torture and that only seven detainees showed signs of abuse.

In a statement yesterday, the US Embassy said Iraqi authorities had given assurances that they will investigate the conditions of detainees found Sunday night and that the abuse of prisoners "will not be tolerated by either the Iraqi government" or US-led forces anywhere in the country.

"We have made clear to the Iraqi government that there must not be militia or sectarian control or direction of Iraqi security forces, facilities or ministries," the US statement added.

US officials have refused to say how many detainees showed signs of torture and whether most were Sunnis, pending completion of an Iraqi investigation.

Prominent Sunni Arabs have complained for months about abuse by Interior Ministry forces, whom they claim have been infiltrated by Shiite militias. The Sunnis called for an international investigation after the Jadriyah detainees were found.

The government denies the militia allegations.

Also on today, insurgents attacked US and Iraqi troops in western Iraq, triggering fire fights that left 32 insurgents dead, a US military statement said.

One US Marine and an Iraqi soldier suffered minor injuries during the attack, the US forces said. Most of the fighting took place around the a mosque in the center of the town.

"Marines reported that they received sustained small arms fire originating from the mosque," the statement said. "A nearby US Army outpost also reported receiving enemy fire from the area surrounding the mosque."

The US forces estimated that at least 50 insurgents took part in the coordinated attack, which quickly dissipated when the Iraqi and US forces returned fire, the military said. Iraqi troops entered the mosque and found spent ammunition.

America's death toll rose yesterday as the US military reported a US Marine killed the day before in Haditha, 220 kilometres northwest of Baghdad. An Army soldier died Thursday in a traffic accident near Beiji, 250 kilometres north of Baghdad and a second soldier died in another accident near Balad, the command said.