BAGHDAD, (AP) – Relatives wept as the remains of victims from a suicide bombing at a funeral were placed into coffins Wednesday, while police increased the attack’s death toll by four to 36 killed in Baghdad’s deadliest attack since August.
Tuesday’s attack was a reminder of the dangers that persist despite the recent decline in violence in Iraq and of the peril for mass gatherings in a country where the bereaved often find themselves targets.
The bomber detonated his explosives amid men gathered in the capital’s eastern Zayouna neighborhood for the funeral of Nabil Hussein Jassim, a retired Iraqi Army officer killed last week in a car bombing blamed on al-Qaeda in Iraq that had killed 14 people.
“At the end of a three-day mourning period, a terrorist blew up himself in the mourning tent, leaving bodies scattered,” one of the wounded men, who gave his name only as Abu Hasanain, told AP Television from his bed in al-Kindi Teaching Hospital Wednesday.
The funeral bombing was the deadliest attack in the capital since Aug. 1, when a suicide bomber detonated a fuel truck near a gas station, killing 50 people and wounding 60.
In the same Baghdad neighborhood of Zayouna, a roadside bomb targeting a police patrol wounded six people Wednesday — three police and three civilians, a police officer said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release information.
In Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, a suicide bomber detonated his explosives near a hospital in the center of town, killing four people and wounding 23, an official at the hospital’s morgue said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media.
To the north in Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, police said they detained a senior local al-Qaeda fighter in a joint operation with police from nearby Tikrit on Tuesday evening.
The suspect, Adnan Khalil al-Faraj, is believed to be a senior al-Qaeda military commander for Mosul and Tikrit, said Brig. Abdul Kareem al-Jubori of Nineveh province’s police.
Despite continuing attacks, there has been a noticeable decrease in violence across the country compared to late 2006 and early 2007, when many feared Iraq was heading toward civil war. The U.S. military says violence has fallen by 60 percent since June.
The drop has been attributed to a combination of the work of predominantly Sunni armed groups who turned against al-Qaeda and are now backed by the U.S. military; a freeze on the activity of the Mahdi Army militia declared by its leader, radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr; and an extra 30,000 U.S. troops sent into the Baghdad area.
The U.S.-backed armed groups — known as Awakening Councils — are paid salaries of $300 to protect their neighborhoods, and often work with Iraqi security forces or the U.S. military to clear their areas of insurgents or militias.
But the members also have become targets. On Monday, a suicide bomber targeting members of the U.S.-funded movement killed 12 people in Tarmiyah, just north of Baghdad.
Separately, an adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Wednesday that negotiations are expected to begin in mid-January between Iraq and Iran over the cleaning up the strategic Shatt el-Arab waterway.
Talks will focus on removing soil that has eroded into the Iraqi side of the waterway, dredging out sunken ships and removing land mines left over from the Iraq-Iran war in the 1980s, said Sami al-Askari.
No fixed date has been set for the meeting with Tehran, but it is expected to take place this month, al-Askari said. Talks will not involve renegotiating the border through the disputed waterway, which runs between Iran and Iraq and leads to the Persian Gulf.
The waterway provides landlocked-Iraq with its only outlet to the sea, and tensions have flared sporadically between the two countries over the waterway’s delineation.