Blast Kills 75, Al-Qaida Zone Raided

BAGHDAD -- A truck bomb struck a Shiite mosque Tuesday in central Baghdad, killing 75 people and wounding more than 200, even as about 10,000 U.S. soldiers northeast of the capital battled their way into an al-Qaida sanctuary.

The thunderous explosion at the Khillani mosque in the capital's commercial area of Sinak sent smoke billowing over concrete buildings, nearly a week after a bombing brought down the twin minarets of a revered Shiite shrine in the northern city of Samarra.

Gunfire erupted after the blast, which police said occurred in a parking lot near the mosque, causing the outer wall and building inside to crumble.

Police and hospital officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they feared retribution, said at least 75 people were killed and 204 were wounded, adding that the toll could rise as bodies were pulled from the debris.

Meanwhile, raids dubbed "Operation Arrowhead Ripper" took place in Baqouba, the capital of Diyala province, and involved nighttime air assaults, the U.S. military said, adding that the operation was still in its opening stages.

The troops, under cover of attack helicopters, killed at least 22 insurgents in the offensive, the military said.

The commander of Iraqi military operations in Diyala said handcuffs, swords and electric cables -- apparently used as torture implements -- had been seized from militant safe houses in the area.

The operation was part of new U.S. and Iraqi attacks on Baghdad's northern and southern flanks, which officials said were aimed at clearing out Sunni insurgents, al-Qaida fighters and Shiite militiamen who had fled the capital and Anbar during the course of a four-month operation.

A top U.S. military official said forces were taking advantage of the arrival of 30,000 additional U.S. troops to open the concerted attacks.