American military officials are condemning violence that killed more than 150 people in the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar and have begun providing emergency aid for civilians there, officials said Friday.

U.S. and Iraqi troops are distributing food, water, shelter and medical supplies to hundreds of people affected by the violence. On Friday morning, a shipment of 5,000 humanitarian meals and 43 tents were delivered to victims of the bombings that sparked the carnage.

The violence began Tuesday when car bombs were detonated in crowded marketplaces. The next day, Shiite militias and off-duty Iraqi police swept through Sunni neighborhoods and killed dozens of people, officials said.

In a Friday afternoon interview with CNN from Camp Speicher outside Tikrit, Army Brig. Gen. Mick Bednarek, deputy commander Multi-National Forces Iraq – North, confirmed that 18 police officers have been arrested in Ninevah province in connection with Tuesday’s alleged reprisal killings of 70 people.

“Initial indicators were that yes, the Iraqi police were involved,” Bednarek told CNN. “They will investigate that fully to ensure that justice is done.”

The police officers were questioned by Iraqi officials, Bednarek said, “and the governors of Iraq and Iraqi officials have launched a full investigation into this to ensure that those who were responsible are brought to justice by Iraqi law.

Asked how it would be possible for Iraqis to trust the police in the aftermath of the slaughter, Bednarek replied, “that’s perhaps part of the good news story of what has occurred in Tal Afar as a result of this horrific act,” that it “is Iraqi officials who have taken the lead in bringing those who were responsible to justice.”

Gen. David Petraeus, commander of Multi-National Force- Iraq, issued a statement Friday condemning a Sunni terrorist organization for sparking the bloodshed.

“[Al-Qaida in Iraq] elements once again displayed their total disregard for human life, carrying out barbaric actions against innocent Iraqi citizens in an effort to reignite sectarian violence and to undermine recent Iraqi and Coalition successes in improving security in Baghdad,” Petraeus said.

“These horrific attacks demonstrated [al-Qaida’s] complete rejection of respect for life itself and the Coalition joins Iraqi leaders in condemning these latest acts of cold-blooded murder.”

In the days after the attack, U.S. military and Iraqi civilian leaders held a news conference to address the people of Tal Afar.

“All of your leadership is required right now. This is exactly what the terrorists want to do,” said Brig. Gen. Frank Wiercinski, deputy commander for support of Task Force Lightning. “The [attackers] have made us grieve together, but they will not break the will of the leadership of Tal Afar.”

Tal Afar long has been one of the more strategically important cities in Iraq. After insurgents took control of the city and used it as a staging base for attacks, the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment fought a pitched battled in September 2005 to reclaim the city. It was also the first notable example of the “clear, hold and build” strategy that American forces shifted to in an effort to build security.

President Bush later cited Tal Afar in speeches as an example of U.S. successes in Iraq. In the months since, some military officials have said the successes in Tal Afar had made it even more of a target for insurgents.

Stars and Stripes reporter Lisa Burgess contributed to this report.

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