Suicide bombers killed 52 worshippers at a mosque in western Iraq on Friday while in Baghdad two car bombs destroyed the blast wall protecting a hotel housing foreign journalists and killed eight Iraqis. The suicide attackers targeted the Sheik Murad Shiite mosque in Khanaqin, 140 kilometers (87 miles) northeast of Baghdad, as dozens of people were attending Friday prayers, police said. Iraqi army Col. Hazim al-Sudani said 52 people were killed and 65 injured in the largely Kurdish town.
The blast near the Hamra hotel in Baghdad knocked down the blast walls protecting the hotel and blew out windows, but did no structural damage.
"What we have here appears to be two suicide car bombs (that) attempted to breach the security wall in the vicinity of the hotel complex and I think the target was the Hamra Hotel," U.S. Brig. Gen. Karl Horst told reporters at the scene.
The blasts, less than a minute apart, reverberated throughout the city center, sent a mushroom cloud hundreds of feet into the air and was followed by sporadic small arms fire. At first the target appeared to be an Interior Ministry building nearby where U.S. troops found about 170 detainees, some of whom appeared to be tortured.
Several residential buildings collapsed from the blast, which gouged a large crater in the road. Firefighters and U.S. troops joined neighbors to dig through the debris and under toppled blast barriers to pull victims from the rubble.
The blasts appear to be the second attack against a hotel housing international journalists since the Oct. 24 triple vehicle bomb attack against the Palestine Hotel, where The Associated Press, Fox News and other organizations live and work.
"The investigation is under way, but the initial reports indicate so far the first car bomber was trying to pave the way for the second one, not on the main road, but on a secondary road to get in and hit the Hamra hotel, not the interior ministry," Maj. Gen. Hussein Kamal, the deputy interior minister, said.
Saad al-Ezi, an Iraqi journalist with the Boston Globe, said from inside Hamra hotel that it was clearly the target.
"They were trying to penetrate by displacing the blast barriers behind the hotel and then get to the hotel," he said. "I woke up to a huge explosion which broke all the glass and displaced all the window and doors frames."
On Thursday, the Iraqi detainee abuse scandal continued to dominate Iraqi politics. A leader of a major Sunni party, Tariq al-Hashimi, told Iraq's Sharqiyah television that his group had submitted 50 complaints of prisoner abuse to the government "but we did not receive a timely response."
However, Interior Minister Bayn Jabr, a Shiite, brushed aside the complaints, denied sectarian bias and claimed that "every time" al-Hashimi has differences with him "he exerts pressure on me through the U.S. Embassy."
"I reject torture and I will punish those who perform torture," Jabr said. "No one was beheaded, no one was killed" _ a clear reference to the beheadings of foreign and Iraqi hostages by insurgents including al-Qaida's Iraq wing.
He also said "those who are supporting terrorism are making the exaggerations" about torture and that only seven detainees showed signs of abuse.
In a statement Thursday, the U.S. Embassy said Iraqi authorities had given assurances that they will investigate the conditions of detainees found Sunday night and that the abuse of prisoners "will not be tolerated by either the Iraqi government" or U.S.-led forces anywhere in the country.
"We have made clear to the Iraqi government that there must not be militia or sectarian control or direction of Iraqi security forces, facilities or ministries," the U.S. statement added. U.S. officials have refused to say how many detainees showed signs of torture and whether most were Sunnis, pending completion of an Iraqi investigation.
Prominent Sunni Arabs have complained for months about abuse by Interior Ministry forces, whom they claim have been infiltrated by Shiite militias. The Sunnis called for an international investigation after the Jadriyah detainees were found.
The government denies the militia allegations. Also on Friday, insurgents attacked U.S. and Iraqi troops in western Iraq, triggering fire fights that left 32 insurgents dead, a U.S. military statement said. One U.S. Marine and an Iraqi soldier suffered minor injuries during the attack, the U.S. forces said. Most of the fighting took place around the a mosque in the center of the town, reports the AP. I.L.