Suicide bomb targets Sunnis allied to US

A suicide car bomb killed at least 25 people and wounded 80 in Baiji, an oil refinery town in northern Iraqi, in an attack which targeted Sunni militias who have joined US forces in the fight against al-Qa'ida.

The two bombers detonated their explosives when Iraqi police and members of a volunteer security force prevented their vehicle from entering the gate of a residential compound belonging to the state-run North Oil Company. Most of the dead were civilians, including four children, according to police. Beiji's police chief, Saad al-Nafous, was fired, and a curfew was clamped on the city which is home to Iraq's largest oil refinery until further notice.

The attack coincided with a suicide bomb in Baquba, 35 miles north-east of Baghdad, which killed 10 people and wounded five others, raising the death toll in Iraq to its highest level after two weeks of relative calm.

The second attack by a bomber wearing an explosives vest targeted a funeral procession for two volunteers of the anti al-Qai'da militias. The two members of the "Awakening Council", a father and son, had been accidentally killed by US troops.

Although the US has trumpeted its success in Anbar province and Baghdad, where al-Qa'ida has been marginalised by the US military "surge" and local tribal chiefs turning on the insurgents, US officials say the network is regrouping in the north. The military said yesterday that US forces killed 13 suspected al-Qa'ida fighters and detained 27 others in operations targeting the militant group in the past two days in central and northern Iraq.

The Americans call the groups that are funded by the US to counter al-Qa'ida "Concerned Local Citizens", and they form a kind of neighbourhood watch network.

Also yesterday, the Turkish military announced that up to 175 Kurdish separatist rebels had been killed inside Iraq on a single day during cross-border raids earlier this month. They were killed on 16 December in "unprotected buildings" in the mountainous areas of northern Iraq, the military said in a statement.

Turkey launched the controversial offensive, involving some 50 war planes, against Kurdistan Workers Party bases after receiving intelligence and clearance from the US.

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