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Iraq militants using new tactics to foil security

BAGHDAD - Militant groups are finding new ways to foil Iraqi security, hiding explosives in the chassis of vehicles or tucking them in secret compartments, the top U.S. commander in Iraq said yesterday as Baghdad was hit again by a suicide car bomb, this one shearing off the front of the main crime lab. At least 22 people were killed.

The attack came a day after car bombings struck three hotels favored by Western journalists and security contractors. The back-to-back blasts underscored the evolving tactics of suspected Sunni militants to target high-profile sites with powerful assaults with high degrees of planning and coordination.

The aim appears twofold: to maximize the blows to the Shia-led government and exploit security gaps with Iraqi forces now almost entirely in control of checkpoints and patrols as the U.S. military draws down.

Any signs of backsliding on security would hurt the American-backed administration of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is using the drop in overall violence across Iraq as one of the pillars of his campaign in national elections March 7.

Insurgents such as al-Qaida in Iraq "have become more creative at how to conduct attacks," the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. Raymond Odierno, told reporters. The methods include wrapping explosives into the gears and slats of vehicle chassis or into carefully concealed chambers, he said.

Odierno said Iraqi authorities have requested scanners to look into sealed portions of vehicles. Iraqis have been reluctant to use bomb-sniffing dogs because of a Muslim tradition that avoids contact with dogs. "They are willing to use them against vehicles," he said. "They don't want to use them against people."

Yesterday, the attacker tried to drive a bomb-rigged pickup truck through a checkpoint and around walls protecting the forensic evidence office of the Interior Ministry, police said. The dead included 18 police officers.

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