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Suicide bomber strikes university in Iraq killing 41

By Brian Murphy The Associated Press

BAGHDAD – A female suicide bomber triggered a ball bearing-packed charge Sunday, killing at least 41 people at a mostly Shiite college whose main gate was left littered with blood-soaked student notebooks and papers amid the bodies.

Witnesses said a woman carried out the attack at the business school annex to Mustansiriyah University. Interior Ministry officials said they were still investigating those reports. The school’s main campus was hit by a string of bombings last month that killed 70 people.

The attack came as the powerful Shiite militia leader Muqtada al-Sadr said an ongoing security crackdown in Baghdad was doomed to fail because of U.S. involvement and suggested he was rethinking his cooperation. He bitterly complained that “car bombs continue to explode” in the capital despite the new security push.

The political situation in Iraq was further thrown into question after President Jalal Talabani, a 73-year-old Kurd, was taken to Jordan for medical tests after feeling ill. Talabani’s son, Qubad Talabani, said his father was suffering from fatigue and exhaustion. “He did not have a heart attack” or a stroke, he told CNN.

The statement issued in the name of the radical cleric al-Sadr put increased strains on the U.S.-Iraqi security sweeps aimed at restoring order in the capital.

Al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia pulled its fighters off the streets under intense government pressure to let the 12-day-old security plan proceed. But, a relentless wave of Sunni attacks -six alone in the Baghdad area Sunday -has apparently tested the patience of al-Sadr as well as many ordinary Shiites.

A return to the streets by the Mahdi Army forces could effectively block the security effort and raise the chances of Baghdad falling into sectarian street battles -the apparent aim of Sunni extremists seeking any way to destroy the U.S.-backed government.

“Here we are, watching car bombs continue to explode to harvest thousands of innocent lives from our beloved people in the middle of a security plan controlled by an occupier,” said a statement read to hundreds of cheering supporters by an al-Sadr aide in Baghdad.

The cleric was highly critical of the U.S. role and urged leaders to “make your own Iraqi (security) plans.” He said “no security plan will work” with direct U.S. involvement.

Al-Sadr -who has not appeared in public in more than a month -is no friend of Washington and his forces fought fierce battles with U.S. troops in 2004. But, he has largely cooperated in the Iraqi political process to avoid strains with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the Shiite leadership.

The statement was the first public word from al-Sadr since U.S. assertions earlier this month that he fled to neighboring Iran to avoid arrest. Al-Sadr’s aides and other loyalists insist he never left Iraq.

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