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Two Suicide Bombers Kill 27 In Iraq

BAGHDAD -- Two suicide bombers have killed 27 people and wounded 68 at a recruitment center for the Iraqi Army north of Baghdad, an Iraqi security source said, just days after the government promised a crackdown in the area.

The U.S. military said 20 recruits were killed and 55 wounded when the bombers blew themselves up in a line outside a security base in Ba'quba, 65 kilometers northeast of Baghdad.

The attack follows a string of bombings in recent months in Diyala Governorate, of which Ba'quba is the capital.

Sunni Islamist Al-Qaeda has sought to stoke tensions in religiously and ethnically mixed Diyala. It has frequently targeted police officers and police recruits.

One witness described devastation at the scene.

"An explosion shook everything. I saw chunks of flesh scattered everywhere and some recruits were calling for their friends," said wounded recruit Nadhim Hamid, 19. "There were people on the ground with blood stains on them -- it was chaos. Then another bomb exploded and I woke up here."

Iraqi security forces are poised to launch a major crackdown in Diyala, the Interior Ministry said on July 13, the latest military operation aimed at stabilizing the country.

Recent bombings could be Al-Qaeda's way of showing it is still a threat, despite improving security, U.S. officials say.

"What's happening here is the enemy knows the government and security forces are getting stronger," said Major Peggy Kageleiry, a spokeswoman for the U.S. military in northern Iraq.

The Interior Ministry has not given a date for the start of the Diyala crackdown.

U.S. forces have been conducting security operations in Diyala since the beginning of the year and would take part in the new Iraqi push, the military has said.

Al-Qaeda has sought to regroup in Iraq's north after sustained military campaigns pushed the militants out of their former strongholds in Iraq's western Anbar Governorate and Baghdad.

Latest Offensive

The Diyala crackdown will be the latest Iraqi-led offensive aimed at stamping government authority on areas once in the hands of Sunni Arab insurgents or Shi'ite militias.

U.S. and Iraqi officials say a campaign against Al-Qaeda in the northern city of Mosul and surrounding Nineveh Governorate has helped reduce violence there. Other operations have targeted Shi'ite militias in the southern governores of Al-Basrah and Maysan.

Attacks across Iraq were down 85 percent in June from a year ago, the Iraqi military said last week.

Violence has fallen sharply due to a U.S. troop buildup, a rebellion by Sunni Arab tribal leaders against Al-Qaeda and a truce by anti-American Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

That has focused more attention on national reconciliation and a series of laws Washington hopes will bridge the divide between majority Shi'ite and minority Sunni Arabs.

Parliament is expected to vote on a provincial elections law on July 15 after weeks of wrangling over the draft.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has said the elections would be held on October 1, but lawmakers had said that would be unlikely given many preparations for the vote could not be undertaken until the law was passed.

The elections are seen by Washington as a way to boost reconciliation by giving factions that boycotted the last polls in 2005 a chance to claim a stake in the political process at the local level.

The UN special representative to Iraq said early this month there would be enough time to hold the elections by the end of the year if parliament passed the law in July.