BAGHDAD, Iraq – A string of car bombs and homicide attacks across Iraq killed at least 49 Iraqis and wounded more than 130 Monday, striking a Baghdad restaurant popular with police, a Shiite mosque and the home of a community leader near Mosul (search).
Insurgents also assassinated a senior Iraqi general in the capital, and the U.S. military reported that four American soldiers were killed in combat Sunday in northern Iraq (search) and a fifth died in an accident.
About 610 people, including 49 U.S. troops, have been killed since April 28, when Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari (search) announced his new government. Washington hopes the government will eventually train police and an army capable of securing Iraq and allowing the withdrawal of foreign troops.
In Monday's deadliest attack, two car bombs exploded in the town of Tal Afar, 50 miles west of the northern city of Mosul, killing at least 20 people and injuring 20 more, officials said. The blasts apparently targeted the home of Hassan Baktash, a Shiite Muslim with close ties to the Kurdistan Democratic Party.
A homicide car bomber carried out the second worst strike when he blew himself up outside a Shiite mosque shortly before evening prayers in Mahmoudiya, a town 20 miles south of Baghdad. Police said it killed at least 10 people and wounded 30 — many of them children.
Sunni Muslims opposed to Iraq's Shiite-dominated government are thought to provide the backbone of the insurgency, and some Sunni extremists are attacking Shiite targets in an effort to provoke a sectarian war.
In Baghdad's worst attack in recent days, a car bomb killed at least eight people and wounded more than 80 when it exploded at lunchtime outside the Habayibna restaurant in the Talibia neighborhood. It is a popular gathering spot for police.
"All these people were killed for no reason. What wrong did they do by being policemen or soldiers," a shaken Mshari Hassan, the restaurant owner, said shortly after the blast.
Baghdad hospitals where the dead were taken did not say if any were police officers or soldiers.
"We were eating at the restaurant then I don't remember anything until I woke up here in the hospital. There were hundreds of people in the restaurant having lunch," said Dia Hamid, who was being treated at al-Kindi Hospital for head and stomach injuries.
A homicide bomber killed five Iraqis and injured 13 when he drove an explosives-packed pickup truck into a crowd outside a municipal council office in Tuz Khormato, 55 miles south of the northern city of Kirkuk, a police commander, Lt. Gen. Sarhat Qader, said.
Monday's violence began in Baghdad when Maj. Gen. Wael al-Rubaei, a senior official in the National Security Ministry, was killed along with his driver in a fusillade of automatic weapons fire from two cars packed with insurgents. Al Qaeda in Iraq, the group run by Jordanian terrorist mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, claimed responsibility.
The assassination came a day after another senior government official, Trade Ministry auditing office chief Ali Moussa, was shot dead. Insurgents have killed 20 officials since late April, nearly all in drive-by shootings.
In other violence Monday, two Iraqis were killed and two injured in Kirkuk when a mortar round hit a house, police Capt. Farhad Talabani said.
In Samarra, a former insurgent stronghold 60 miles north of Baghdad, three homicide bombers trying to attack an American base wounded three soldiers, the U.S. military said. Two Iraqi men were killed and 20 people, including men and women, were wounded, police Lt. Qassim Mohammed said.
The U.S. military announced that three American soldiers were killed Sunday and one wounded in two separate attacks in Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad. Another soldier was reported killed when his patrol was hit by a car bomb just north of Tikrit, 80 miles north of the capital, and a fifth died in a vehicle accident in Kirkuk.
As of Monday, at least 1,634 U.S. military personnel had died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
U.S. and Iraqi forces detained at least 285 suspected insurgents in Operation Squeeze Play, their biggest ever joint offensive in the Baghdad area. Centered in the Abu Ghraib district, it targeted militants suspected of attacking the U.S.-run prison there as well as the road to the airport.
Also Monday, the bodies of brothers Haidar and Raed Jaffat were found in Latifiyah, and three other slain men were dumped in Mahmoudiya, police said. All had been shot in the head. The two cities are south of Baghdad in the Triangle of Death, a region where dozens of bodies from unexplained slayings have been found.
Religious leaders are trying to defuse tension between Sunnis and the majority Shiites after a spate of sectarian killings, including the deaths of 10 Islamic clerics the past two weeks.
Sunni leaders have formed an alliance of tribal, political and religious groups to help Iraq's once dominant minority break out of its isolation following the Shiite rise to power after Saddam's ouster.
Political inclusion of the Sunni minority, who account for about 20 percent of Iraq's 27 million people, is seen as a key factor for the country to end the insurgency.
In particular, there have been calls for greater Sunni participation in drafting Iraq's new constitution, which is supposed to be drawn up by mid-August and put to a referendum by October.
Just 17 Sunni Arabs are in the National Assembly following a decision by many Sunni Arabs not to participate in Jan. 30 elections, either from choice or fear of reprisal by insurgents.