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Suicide bomber kills U.S.-allied sheiks in Baghdad

BAGHDAD — A stealthy suicide bomber slipped into a busy Baghdad hotel Monday and blew himself up in the midst of a gathering of U.S.-allied tribal sheiks — a blow to efforts to forge a front against the extremists of al-Qaida in Iraq. Four of the tribal chiefs were among the 13 victims, police said.

Iraq’s prime minister quickly vowed renewed support for Anbar province’s tribal leaders after the noontime explosion, which also wounded 27 people and devastated the ground-floor lobby of the high-rise Mansour Hotel.

“We are sure that this crime will not weaken the will of Anbar sheiks,” Nouri al-Maliki said in a statement.

The stunning terror strike in the heart of Baghdad, by a killer penetrating layers of security, was one of a wave of suicide and other bombings that killed at least 46 people across Iraq on Monday — another day of unrelenting violence raising questions about the ability of the reinforced U.S. military to stem the bloodshed here.

In northern Iraq, 13 Iraqi policemen died in what the U.S. military described as a furious bomb and small-arms attack by insurgents on a security post shared by police and U.S. paratroopers.

In Baqouba, north of Baghdad, meanwhile, a week-old U.S.-Iraqi offensive pressed on, street by street, to drive al-Qaida-linked insurgents from the city’s western side. Beginning late Sunday, U.S.-Iraqi forces clashed with insurgents in the central market area, an Iraqi army officer reported.

“It’s going to get harder before it gets easier during the search,” Brig. Gen. Mick Bednarek, U.S. commander of the operation, said. “We are going into areas we didn’t have the troops to go in before.”

The purpose of Monday’s fatal gathering of tribal chiefs is unclear.

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