A suicide bomber killed at least 27 Iraqi police recruits on Monday in Baquba, the most damaging suicide attack inside Iraq for weeks and a reminder that while there have been recent improvements in security in many provinces, the insurgency continues.
The Associated Press reports that the attack happened in the morning as the recruits gathered outside the gates of an Army camp waiting to begin their training day. The paper also quotes an attack survivor as saying that he believes the police have many disloyal members.
The attack bore the hallmarks of al-Qaida in Iraq, whose militants have repeatedly targeted police and army recruits to discourage Iraqis from joining the country's nascent security forces.
The attack was the latest to target anti-al-Qaida tribal leaders and other officials in an apparent bid to intimidate them from joining the U.S.-sponsored grassroots strategy that the military says has contributed to a recent drop in violence.
Akram Salman said it must have been an inside job because the suicide bomber apparently was able to penetrate heavy security surrounding the police camp without being searched.
"The police are infiltrated. Many people join the police but they have affiliations with al-Qaida. These infiltrators made it easy for the bomber to attack us," he said. "There are two main checkpoints on the main road leading to the camp, it would be impossible for a man on a bicycle to pass without being properly searched."
Despite the morning's carnage, Agence France Presse reports that the official monthly death toll for October is likely to be the smallest in 18 months.
The statistics compiled by Baghdad's interior, defence and health ministries indicate that 285 Iraqis have been killed since the start of October, including both civilians and security personnel, the lowest since February 2006.
An attack on the Al-Askari shrine in the central city of Samarra that month set off a wave of brutal sectarian bloodletting that killed tens of thousands of people.
US and Iraqi commanders have hailed the declining casualty toll as proof of the success of a joint crackdown on sectarian militias launched in Baghdad and surrounding areas in February.
In another sign of a slightly improved situation, the British Broadcasting Corp. reports that US forces gave security control of the largely Shiite southern province of Karbala to Iraqi forces on Monday.
Karbala is the eighth of 18 provinces to be transferred to local control since the US-led invasion in 2003.
The BBC's Jim Muir, in Baghdad, says that despite the handover the situation in Karbala is far from perfect, with more than 50 people killed in August in clashes between Shia militias and the police.
Nevertheless, University of Michigan Middle East historian Juan Cole, who closely follows Iraqi political developments on his blog Informed Comment, says that a recent bombing in the Karbala area is a sign of factional struggles within the Shiite community that controls the area and predicts that fighting for control over the city may intensify with the US drawdown.
As for Karbala, the bombing, which left 6 dead, came in the wake of the announcement that US troops are withdrawing from the province, which is a big pilgrimage center. The withdrawal will allow the Shiite factions that have been fighting there to more openly contest control of it, and the bombing is probably an opening salvo. The martyred grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, Husain, is interred in a shrine in Karbala.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah arrived in London for a summit Monday shortly after delivering unusually strong criticism of the kingdom's close ally, Britain. He said Britain isn't doing enough to stop Al Qaeda-inspired terrorism. Bloomberg reports that he claimed his government had given Britain intelligence that could have headed off the terror attacks on London's transit system in 2005.
Abdullah, in an interview with the BBC at his palace in Jeddah, said Saudi officials passed intelligence about the attacks to the U.K. before they happened. He didn't give details. "Most countries are not taking this issue too seriously, including, unfortunately, Great Britain,'' Abdullah said in an interview broadcast on BBC Radio 4. "We have sent information to Great Britain before the terrorist attack, but unfortunately no action was taken. It may have been able to avert the tragedy.''
Abdullah arrives in London today for the first Saudi state visit to the U.K. in two decades. He will stay with Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace after a ceremonial welcome tomorrow and meet [Prime Minister Gordon] Brown on Oct. 31. Brown may discuss terrorism, the war in Iraq, Iran's nuclear program, and weapons orders.
Terrorism is also creating tension between erstwhile allies of Britain and the US in Turkey and Iraq. Turkey, which is angry over Kurdish rebel attacks on its troops that appear to be staged from Iraqi Kurdistan, has shelled alleged rebel hideouts there in recent days and has said it is considering an incursion into the country to handle the problem.AFP quotes Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, himself an ethnic Kurd, as saying that talks with Turkey on defusing the situation have not gone well.
Describing the increasingly tense situation on the Turkish-Iraqi border as "dead serious," Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Baghdad was becoming "extremely nervous and worried" at the Turkish military build-up in the area.
Turkey has threatened a military incursion across the border against bases belonging to the Kurdistan Workers' Party [PKK], which has been waging a long-term struggle for self rule in eastern Turkey.
Zebari said that Turkey "was not responsive" when Iraqi officials flew to Ankara for talks on how to resolve the situation. "They are talking about large scale military incursion which is getting people extremely, extremely nervous and worried," he said.