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Reconciliation meeting ends in bloodshed

A SUICIDE bomber struck Sunni and Shiite tribal leaders touring a market after a reconciliation meeting west of Baghdad yesterday, killing 33 people in the second major attack in the capital area in two days.

Despite the ongoing violence, the top United States commander in Iraq said he did not believe the Iraqi government would ask Americans to stay in the country past a 2011 deadline.

The bombing - which left clusters of bodies lying piled near the shabby market stalls lining the road - was part of a spike of violence that comes as the US military begins to draw down its forces.

The bomber detonated an explosives belt as the tribal leaders were walking through the market in the town of Abu Ghraib, accompanied by security officials and journalists, according to the Iraqi military.

Shakir Fizaa, the mayor of Abu Ghraib, blamed al-Qaida in Iraq. He said the tribal leaders had just left his office along with security officials after a reconciliation meeting and were talking to constituents in the market when the bombing occurred.

He said some people were wounded when police opened fire after the attack.

"This terrorist attack was aimed at stopping reconciliation and the improvement in the security situation," he said. "The criminal attack bears the fingerprints of al-Qaida, but we will not be deterred by the acts of the vicious group against innocent civilians."

Two Iraqi television journalists were among those killed in the attack, while a TV reporter was wounded.

Nobody claimed responsibility for the attack, but suicide operations are the hallmark of al-Qaida in Iraq.

On Sunday, a suicide bomber struck at a police academy in Baghdad, killing at least 30 people.


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