Mideast edition, Saturday, June 9, 2007

Suicide bombers who detonated a half-ton of explosives near Abu Ghraib on Thursday, destroying two nearby Sunni and Shiite mosques, likely were al-Qaida fighters intent on derailing a tribal reconciliation campaign there, U.S. commanders said Friday.

The explosions occurred just minutes apart, within several blocks of an Iraqi army traffic control point, according to a 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division press release. The first attack occurred at 10:56 a.m., when a suicide bomber in a tractor trailer pulled up to the checkpoint.

The blast killed two Iraqi soldiers, one Iraqi civilian and wounded four other soldiers. It also severely damaged two nearby mosques, one Shiite and one Sunni. The second vehicle bomb attack occurred at 11 a.m., four blocks away, killing one Iraqi soldier and wounding another.

The Abu Ghraib area recently has been the scene of fierce fighting between two separate factions of the Sunni insurgency, as well as an effort by the U.S. military to enlist the support of local tribesmen in its fight against al-Qaida.

That effort, or “reconciliation process,” hopes to mirror the Anbar Awakening movement in western Iraq, where tribes who once lent aid and support to al-Qaida fighters, or who took up arms directly against U.S. forces, are now battling against hard-line Islamists.

Commanders said they believed the attacks were launched by al-Qaida in order to disrupt the reconciliation process.

“This type of attack shows that Al Qaeda has a complete disregard for all Iraqis, regardless of what sect they belong to,” Lt. Col. Peter Andrysiak, deputy commander for the 1-1 Cav, said in a statement..

Late Thursday, officials at the Multi-National Force–Iraq Combined Press Information Center issued a statement condemning the attacks.

“Today’s murderous attacks against two Abu Ghraib mosques show the nature of the heartless enemy facing the people of Iraq,” the statement read.

“The attacks, which destroyed the Shi’a, Hassenein al Mushtaba Mosque and damaged the Sunni, Al Marat Mosque, continue to show that the Iraqi people are facing an indiscriminate enemy with a mission to create fear, division and to destroy the confidence of the Iraqi people.”

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