Latest round of sectarian violence in Iraq leaves more than 30 dead

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Carloads of attackers descended on a police chief's house northeast of Baghdad at dawn yesterday, killing the official's wife, two brothers and 11 guards, and kidnapping three of his grown children, Diyala provincial police reported.

The attack outside Baqouba, which came when the police chief was not at home, was one of the boldest and bloodiest in months of stepped-up violence around the city, where al-Qaida in Iraq and affiliated groups have been fighting US and Iraqi forces and local insurgents who have turned against al-Qaida.

Elsewhere in northern Iraq, bombings struck a Shiite mosque in a town near the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, killing at least 19 people and wounding 25, police said.

The attack started at 1:45 p.m. when a parked car exploded near worshippers leaving the Thaqalain mosque after Friday prayers in the predominantly Shiite town of Dakok, about 45 kilometers (28 miles) south of Kirkuk, police chief Maj. Gen. Farhan Abdul-Rahman Youssef said.

About five minutes later, a suicide bomber was spotted driving toward the mosque but policemen in a nearby station opened fire on him and he exploded, Youssef said.

Police said earlier that the men were on foot and wearing explosives vests, but the police chief provided new details after touring the site of the blasts.

Um Zainab, a 52-year-old housewife whose son was seriously wounded, blamed Sunni insurgents for the blast and called them traitors to Islam.

"They want to kill people even when they are praying in a mosque," she said as she stood in the hospital waiting for her son to come out of surgery. "Nobody wants them in Iraq. What is the guilt of the believers who were practicing their religious duties?"

Another police spokesman in the area, Brig. Gen. Sarhat Qadir, said at least 19 people were killed and 25 were wounded. All of the deaths were in the mosque explosion, Qadir said, although an undetermined number were wounded in the second blast.

Kirkuk, 180 miles north of Baghdad, is the center of Iraq's northern oil fields.

Ethnic tensions have risen in the area as Kurds seek to incorporate the city into their self-governing region in northern Iraq. They won a major concession in March when they pressured the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki into approving plans to move thousands of Arabs out of Kirkuk and resettle them elsewhere.

In southern Iraq on Friday morning, a parked minibus exploded at a bus terminal in the town of Qurnah, 305 miles southeast of Baghdad, and a hospital director said at least 16 people were killed and 32 wounded.

The continuing violence came a day after the four-year US military death toll in Iraq passed the 3,500 mark, after a soldier was reported killed in a roadside bombing in Baghdad.

The US fatality rate has risen as reinforced troops have gone more on the offensive against insurgents in Baghdad and surrounding areas, such as Diyala, in a new security crackdown aimed at restoring more order to central Iraq.

Despite that campaign, Iraq's bombings, shootings, mortar attacks and execution-style killings left at least 63 Iraqis dead nationwide Thursday. They included 32 unidentified men who were handcuffed, blindfolded and shot to death in Baghdad - apparent victims of so-called sectarian death squads usually run by Shiite militias, such as the Mahdi Army.

Diyala provincial police said the dawn attackers outside Baqouba, who arrived in "many cars," also abducted two sons and a daughter of police chief Col. Ali Dilayan al-Jorani, head of central Baqouba's Balda police station. The children were described as young men and a young woman, but their ages weren't immediately available.

Al-Jorani's two slain brothers were serving as guards at the house, in Kanaan town northwest of the city of Baqouba, which is 35 miles northeast of Baghdad.

The bodies of some guards, many of whom were also al-Jorani relatives, were found on a nearby road, apparently after being seized at the house, police said.

A witness to the Qurnah bombing, taxi driver Salim Abdul-Hussein, 35, said the blast damaged the bus terminal and many cars and surrounding shops, striking an area crowded each morning with farmers coming to town to shop and sell their produce and animals in Qurnah, 225 miles south of Baghdad.

Maj. Gen. Mohammed Hammadi, police chief in Basra, the provincial capital 60 miles to the south, said a minibus loaded with rockets, ammunition, C4 explosives and benzene blew up and caused a nearby car to explode in flames - leading to an early report of two car bombs.

Police cordoned off the area and arrested two Egyptian suspects, he said.

At Qurnah hospital, director Ali Qassim told The Associated Press by telephone the hospital had received 16 bodies from the explosions and 32 wounded.

In other violence in Kirkuk, a soldier, Adnan Mahmoud, and his 2-year-old daughter were was killed in a drive-by shooting around 6:30 a.m. Friday, police Capt. Jassim Abdullah said.

In Baghdad, US Army artillery fired at least nine rounds Friday morning into a Sunni Muslim-dominated farming area in the city's southwestern sections of Arab Jibor and Albu Aitha, police reported. A police officer, who asked anonymity as he was not authorized to talk to media, said the shelling targeted "selective areas" where Sunni militants were active.

In another development Thursday, the radical Shiite Muslim leader Muqtada al-Sadr, in a rare televised interview, blamed the United States for Iraq's woes, often referring to it as "the occupier" and accusing it of being behind the sectarian violence, the growing schism between Iraq's majority Shiites and once-dominant Sunni Arabs, and economic hardships.

"We are now facing a brutal Western assault against Islam," he said on Iraqi state television. "This agenda must be countered with a cultural resistance."