BAGHDAD (AP) – A female suicide bomber attacked the offices of an anti-al-Qaeda group that has joined forces with the U.S., killing at least 12 people on Friday in one of Iraq’s most violent provinces, police and the U.S. military said. A second attack at a checkpoint manned by Iraqi soldiers and another of the U.S-backed groups killed 10 people, an Iraqi army officer said. The attacks, about 15 kilometers (10 miles) apart, highlighted the dangers for the U.S.-backed groups, which often include former insurgents who have turned against al-Qaeda in Iraq. The groups are credited with helping stem Iraq’s violence along with the influx of American troops. Both bombings were in Diyala, the province just north of Baghdad that remains one of the country’s most violent regions despite dramatic security gains in the capital and elsewhere.
In the first attack, in the city of Muqdadiyah, 10 of those killed were members of the local anti-al-Qaeda group who have partnered with U.S. and Iraqi forces to rid their neighborhood of militants, said Brig. Gen. Mohammed al-Tamimi, the city police chief, who said the bombing claimed 15 lives and wounded 20. The U.S. military said 12 people died and 17 were wounded.
Ibrahim Bajalan, the head of Diyala provincial council, said the bomber was a former member of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party whose two sons joined al-Qaeda and were killed by Iraqi security forces. “She wanted to avenge the killing of her two sons,” he told The Associated Press. He said 15 people died and 35 were wounded.
The U.S. statement there was no confirmation that any of the dead or wounded were part of the anti-al-Qaeda group. About half the wounded were taken to a nearby base for treatment, said Maj. Peggy Kageilery, a U.S. military spokeswoman for northern Iraq.
Jassim Jerad, a former Iraqi soldier who was injured in the bombing, said he saw a woman approaching the offices, then felt the explosion. “I fell down, but stood up quickly to save my son, who was screaming,” he said from his hospital bed, while his 6-year son wept nearby.
Later Friday, a suicide car bombing at a checkpoint near Mansouriayat al-Jabal killed seven Iraqi soldiers and three members of a local anti-al-Qaeda group, according to Iraqi army Capt. Saad al-Zuhairi, who was about 150 meters (yards) away. Al-Zuhairi said the driver detonated his explosives when the guards asked to search the car.
Violence has declined nationwide in Iraq, but is still frequent in the north, where al-Qaeda militants and other extremists are believed to have fled a U.S.-led security crackdown that began in mid-February in Baghdad.
As the influx of U.S. troops gained momentum earlier this year, American officials have courted both Sunni and Shiite tribal leaders around the country, hoping they will help lead local drives against al-Qaeda and other militants. The groups now include some 60,000 Iraqis nationwide, most of them Sunni Arabs, according to the U.S. military, and members have come increasing attack.
Since the groups began forming in Diyala in July, many of their members have faced deadly militant strikes. In Baqouba, at least 13 have died in suicide attacks, roadside bombings and shootings, according to records compiled from local police. In September in the provincial capital, a suicide bomber struck a U.S.-promoted reconciliation meeting of Shiite and Sunni tribal sheiks, killing at least 15 people.
Before Friday’s attack in Muqdadiyah, 25 members of the groups had been killed, the records showed. In Mosul, 360 kilometers (225 miles) northwest of Baghdad, gunmen ambushed three vehicles carrying members of the local anti-al-Qaeda group late Thursday, killing five of them, said police Brig. Gen. Mohammed al-Wakaa said. In Salahuddin province, also north of Baghdad, 55 suspected al-Qaeda militants were detained and a cell leader killed in joint raids by Iraqi troops and American special forces, the U.S. military said Friday. According to the military statement, the cell targeted in one raid Thursday near Balad was believed responsible for a roadside bombing in November that killed three U.S. airmen. With violence largely declining, the United States has pushed Iraq’s government to make strides in reconciling Sunni Arabs, Shiites and Kurds, a step seen as key to keeping the peace.
A recent stumbling block has been a dispute over raids on the home and offices of Adnan al-Dulaimi, one of Iraq’s most powerful Sunni Arab politicians that led to the arrest of his security detail, after a guard was found with the keys to an explosives-rigged car. He accused the Shiite-led government of trying to silence a pro-Sunni voice with virtual house arrest. The government says he was held for his own protection. Al-Dulaimi was eventually shifted to a Green Zone hotel and returned home Friday. He said the Iraqi military sent Humvees along with him.
“I do not need protection, and I think that these vehicles were meant to put me under observation rather than protecting me,” he said.
During a sermon Friday at Baghdad’s main Sunni mosque, Sheik Jamal al-Obeidi said the dispute pointed to a broader problem: “Iraq’s government talks publicly about national reconciliation, but in reality we do not find this reconciliation.”