Thursday: Two suicide bombs kill at least 75 people in Iraq

Two suicide bombings in separate parts of Iraq yesterday killed at least 75 people, most of them Iranian pilgrims and refugees fleeing earlier sectarian attacks. The killings underlined the continuing violence in Iraq, with the departure of US troops from its city centres little more than a month away.

Just after the explosions, the Baghdad government said it had arrested Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the head of al-Qa'ida in Iraq, which is believed to be behind most of the sectarian bombings. His detention would be a success for the Iraqi authorities but previous claims that he had been caught turned out to be untrue.

The most devastating bombing took place at Muqdadiya, 50 miles north-east of Baghdad in Diyala province, which has been the scene of mass killings by Shia, Sunni and Kurds. The bomber blew himself up among a group of Iranian pilgrims who had come to see Shia holy sites in Iraq and were having lunch in a packed restaurant. Police said 47 people died, all but two of them Iranians, and 67 were injured. It was the worst single attack in Iraq this year, although they have become more frequent in recent months.

Abdulnasir al-Muntasirbillah, who was spending his first day in office as Diyala's governor yesterday, said: "I just left the hospital of Baquba. The scenes there are catastrophic. Words cannot express it. It is a dirty, cowardly terrorist act."

A second suicide bomber in Baghdad also chose a soft target, blowing herself up among refugees who had been driven from their homes by sectarian killings. Police said 28 people were killed and 50 wounded as officers distributed aid.

The attacks probably have less to do with the departure of US troops than with al-Qa'ida wanting to show it is still in business. It clearly has enough volunteer suicide bombers, explosives, safe houses and intelligence on targets to continue its present campaign.

At the same time, it is almost impossible for Iraqi security forces to protect crowds of civilians, however many checkpoints they set up.

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