BAGHDAD — Five U.S. soldiers and two members of the Iraqi security forces were killed Friday in a brazen suicide truck bombing at one of the entrances to the main military base in the northern city of Mosul.
It was the deadliest attack against U.S. soldiers in Iraq in 13 months and the second in Mosul since February, when four soldiers on patrol were killed in a suicide car bomb attack. The U.S. military said Iraqi police were the bomber's target and that the Americans were caught up as bystanders.
While there were only nine U.S. fatalities in March — the lowest since the invasion in March 2003 — Friday's attack punctuated a recent rise in violence throughout the nation, including a string of bombings in Baghdad over the past five days. Of the 31 U.S. troops killed in combat in the Iraq war this year, 11 have been in Mosul, an impoverished city where efforts to obliterate al-Qaida and other Sunni militants have failed over the years.
At least 70 people, many of them residents of the area, were wounded in Friday's attack, and a number of houses and businesses were severely damaged, according to Iraqi security and hospital officials.
The truck was packed with about 2,000 pounds of explosives, the Interior Ministry's spokesman, Maj. Gen. Abdul Karim Khalaf, told state television. The impact shook buildings miles away, Mosul residents said, and a large plume of black smoke rose from the scene.
Driving a dump truck, the bomber appeared to have passed a number of checkpoints before finally blasting through a final checkpoint guarding a military road that leads to one of the main entrances to the base, said Maj. Derrick Cheng, a U.S. military spokesman in northern Iraq.
At that moment, however, a U.S. military convoy happened to be leaving the base for a mission inside Mosul, Cheng said. The dump truck immediately came under fire from Iraqi police at the checkpoint and in guard towers around the base, as well as U.S. soldiers in the convoy, but the bomber could not be prevented from detonating his payload along the road, about 50 yards from the base entrance, Iraqi police said.
The road leads to the Mosul headquarters of the nearly 3,000 members of the paramilitary Iraqi national police, who were sent last fall by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to help subdue the violent city, advised and backed by the U.S. military.
The blast, believed to have been carried out by Sunni extremists, is likely to increase pressure on Maliki to ask U.S. combat troops to stay in Mosul after the June 30 deadline for them to pull out of Iraqi cities. America's top commander suggested this week that even as U.S. troops pull out of other cities, he may have to send reinforcements to Mosul and to volatile Diyala province.
Tensions over land and oil recently have been increasing between Sunni Kurds and Sunni Arabs in northern Iraq, especially in Mosul and the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, and between Sunnis and Shiites in Baghdad and elsewhere.
"The people who are behind the violence are the people who are betting on the failure of the political process," said Seleem Abdullah, of the Iraqi Islamic Party, the largest Sunni bloc.