BAGHDAD – The death toll from a blast in a market in the northern Iraqi town of Tal Afar rose to 25 on Saturday after four of the six dozen people injured died from their wounds, a security official said.
The predominantly ethnic Turkoman town was under an indefinite curfew a day after Friday's bombing, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to the speak to the media.
The official, who was familiar with the police investigation, said the blast was carried out by a lone Sunni Turkoman suicide bomber from Tal Afar, whose identity was established after forensic tests on his remains. The bomber had been released from detention four months ago under an amnesty passed by parliament earlier this year, he added.
Initial reports said a parked car was used in the attack.
The bomber may have avoided detection at a checkpoint leading to the busy market by having a man ride with him in the passenger seat, said the official. The passenger got off soon after the car passed the checkpoint, he added, quoting witness reports.
Suicide car bombers are known to ride alone in most cases, so having a passenger next to them could help them avoid detection. Tal Afar, a frequent target of suicide bombings over the past five years, bans males from driving alone.
The top U.S. diplomat and military commander in Iraq condemned the attack in Tal Afar, located 260 miles (420 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad.
Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Gen. David Petraeus said in a joint statement Saturday that the "senseless" attack will further unite the Iraqi people to reject al-Qaida in Iraq and the "indiscriminate" violence it inflicts on civilians.
The bombing, which bore the hallmarks of al-Qaida, is likely to stoke tensions among ethnic groups throughout northern Iraq because of a dispute over control of the oil-rich region of Kirkuk. The city is claimed by the Kurds who want to annex it to their self-ruled region, but its Arab and Turkomen residents want to remain under central government control.
Northern Iraq has been suffering most from insurgent attacks while the rest of the country has seen the lowest levels of violence in four years. That improvement has been attributed to the dispatch of additional U.S. troops last year, a cease-fire by a Shiite militia and a revolt by Sunni tribesmen and insurgents against the al-Qaida in Iraq.
The deadly Tal Afar bombing was a grim reminder that al-Qaida in Iraq and other militant groups remain capable of executing major attacks in Iraq despite the presence of about 145,000 troops and what is widely perceived as improving Iraqi security forces.
It also comes days after two Iraqi officials said the Americans had agreed to remove all U.S. troops from Iraqi cities by June 30, 2009, and withdraw combat units by October 2010. All American troops would be gone around 2013, the Iraqis said on condition of anonymity because the talks are ongoing. U.S. officials in Washington insisted that no firm dates have been agreed.
Meanwhile, Georgia — the third largest contributor to the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq — said it is pulling out its entire 2,000-strong contingent from Iraq to join the fighting in the breakaway province of South Ossetia as soon as transport can be arranged.
A U.S. military spokesman said the departure of the Georgians will have "some impact" in the near term but no significant long-term effect on Iraq's security.
Col. Bondo Maisuradze, commander of the Georgia brigade, told The Associated Press Saturday that all his troops would be leaving, but he couldn't say when because transportation arrangements had not been finalized. "All the Georgian guys will be leaving for the homeland," he said.
The Georgians have asked the United States to provide transportation, and U.S. spokesman Capt. Charles G. Calio said all options are being considered.
In scattered violence Saturday, a bodyguard who works for Youth and Sports minister Jassim Mohammed Ja'afar was gunned down outside his home near the city of Kirkuk, according to a police source who did not want to be named because he is not authorized to disclose the information.
Also in northern Iraq, unidentified gunmen shot dead a 50-year-old woman outside her home in the al-Maamoun district in Mosul, 225 miles (360 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad.
In the capital, an American soldier was killed and two others were wounded in a roadside bombing Friday night, the U.S. military said.