BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Two suicide bombers struck in a Sunni Arab district of Baghdad on Monday, killing at least 14 people including the leader of a U.S.-backed neighborhood security patrol, an Interior Ministry source said.
The strikes were the latest in an apparent stepped-up campaign of suicide bombings that has seen major attacks nearly every day for the past two weeks, even as overall levels of violence in Iraq have fallen.
Two other security sources gave a death toll of 10 people killed but said it could rise. Baghdad security spokesman Brigadier-General Qassim Moussawi told Iraqiya state television that six people had been killed and 26 wounded.
One of the bombers wore an explosive vest, the other struck with a car bomb. Among the dead was Riyadh al-Sammarrai, head of neighborhood security volunteers in Adhamiya, a mainly Sunni Arab area in northeastern Baghdad.
The neighborhood volunteers have been increasingly targeted in recent weeks by al Qaeda Sunni Arab militants, who have been driven out of most of the territory they once controlled in Iraq but have continued to launch suicide bombings.
Before the new year al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who is not thought to have direct control over the Iraqi militants that use his organization’s name, vowed to strike the volunteers, who are funded by U.S. forces.
U.S. commanders say attacks on the volunteers are a sign that al Qaeda fears the program, which has sprouted in Sunni Arab areas where al Qaeda militants ruled the streets until local tribes turned on them in 2006 and 2007.
Adhamiya was one of the militants’ main strongholds in Baghdad and one of the deadliest areas for U.S. forces in the capital until mid-2007. It is now a quiet area where shops have reopened and refugees have begun returning.
Although overall levels of violence fell sharply throughout the second half of 2007, U.S. commanders say the Sunni Arab militants remain determined to launch “spectacular” attacks using suicide bombers to kill large numbers of people.
A wave of suicide bombings over the past two weeks included a strike at a funeral on New Year’s day that killed 34 people, the deadliest attack in the capital in five months.