BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Bomb attacks killed 77 people in Iraq on Tuesday, including 50 who died in twin truck bombings in the northwestern town of Tal Afar, police said.
Among other attacks, suspected al Qaeda militants killed 21 people in bombings targeting police and Sunni Arab tribes who have formed an alliance against the militants, officials said.
The attacks follow an upsurge in violence in Baghdad and outside the capital in recent days. U.S. and Iraqi security forces have deployed thousands more soldiers in Baghdad to try to stem a sectarian war threatening to tear the country apart.
Outgoing U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said on Monday al Qaeda was trying to undermine efforts by the Iraqi government and U.S. commanders to court tribal leaders and some insurgent groups to collaborate against the militant network.
One of the blasts in Tal Afar, a mixed town of Shi'ites, Sunni Arabs and Turkmen near the Syrian border, was detonated by a suicide bomber near a Shi'ite mosque, police said.
Police Brigadier Karim Khalaf al-Jubouri said the bomber lured victims to buy wheat loaded on his truck. A second truck bomb exploded in a used car lot. The attacks wounded 120 people.
"There was a huge bomb in the street," said one resident, Akram Ali, 27, referring to the attack near the mosque.
"More than 20 shops and houses were destroyed and some are still burning. Firemen are pulling bodies from the rubble."
In 2006, President Bush held up Tal Afar as an example of progress being made in Iraq after U.S.-led forces freed it from al Qaeda in an offensive the previous year.
In another blow to Bush, the U.S. Senate on Tuesday endorsed a March 31, 2008, target date for withdrawing American combat troops from Iraq, moving Congress a step closer to a showdown with the president who has vowed to veto any legislation setting dates for a troop pullout.
Near Ramadi, in western Anbar province, a suicide bomber exploded a car outside a restaurant on a main road, killing 17 people and wounding 32, a hospital source said.
The restaurant was frequented by police in an area where local tribes have joined the tribal alliance against al Qaeda in Anbar. Many police were among the casualties, the hospital source said.
INSURGENT LEADER KILLED
Earlier four people were killed in two blasts in Abu Ghraib, west of Baghdad. One of the dead was a military leader of one of Iraq's biggest Sunni Arab insurgent groups, the 1920 Revolution Brigades, the group said in an Internet statement.
The group identified the leader as Harith al-Dari, who is also the son of an anti-al Qaeda tribal leader.
The Brigades is believed to have given its tacit backing to Sunni Arab tribes who have formed the alliance against al Qaeda.
Relatives blamed al Qaeda for the attack. Al Qaeda has come into conflict with some tribes because of its adherence to a radical form of Sunni Islam and indiscriminate killings.
Dari's father is tribal leader Sheikh Thahir al-Dari, who is head of the al-Zobaie tribe, to which Deputy Prime Minister Salam al-Zobaie belongs. The deputy prime minister was the target of an assassination bid last week.
The Brigades is made up of mostly former military officers and is believed to mainly target U.S. soldiers.
Khalilzad, who left his post as ambassador to Iraq on Monday, said U.S. and Iraqi officials had held contacts with Sunni Arab insurgent-linked groups and were continuing to engage them to bring them into the political process.
In a move to address Sunni Arab concerns, Iraq's president and prime minister on Monday approved amendments to ease rules under which former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party were banned from jobs in government and the security forces.
A U.S. combat post was also attacked by two suicide truck bombs and about 30 gunmen west of Baghdad on Monday, but American soldiers repelled them and killed 15, the U.S. military said on Tuesday.
The attack on the post in the Garma area was unusual given insurgents do not typically launch such large-scale assaults. Eight U.S. soldiers were wounded.