BAIJI, Iraq (Reuters) – A suicide truck bomb killed at least 20 people and wounded 80 in the northern Iraqi city of Baiji on Tuesday, the police and U.S. military said, in the deadliest attack in Iraq for two weeks.
In the province of Diyala north of Baghdad, a suicide bomber wearing a vest packed with explosives struck a funeral, killing four people and wounding 21, police said.
A Reuters photographer in Baiji, Salahuddin province, said the attack there targeted a security checkpoint on a road leading to a residential compound housing employees of the Northern Oil Company.
The blast destroyed a guardhouse leading to the complex and smashed the windows of nearby apartment buildings. People were digging through the rubble looking for bodies, he said.
Police in Baiji and the Interior Ministry in Baghdad said 20 people were killed and 80 wounded in the attack. The U.S. military, citing initial reports, gave the same death toll.
Abdul-Rahman Dhahir, a doctor in Baiji hospital, and Iraqi army Major Shamil Mohammed said most of the casualties were civilians who had been queuing near a gas station.
Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani ordered the dismissal and interrogation of Baiji police chief Saad Nufous shortly after the attack, Interior Ministry spokesman Major-General Abdul-Karim Khalaf told Reuters.
The violent oil refinery town, about 180 km (110 miles) north of Baghdad, has witnessed a number of bomb attacks. Earlier this month two suicide car bombers killed nine people.
Violence has dropped sharply across Iraq in recent months after the United States dispatched 30,000 extra troops. U.S. and Iraqi officials also credit the mainly Sunni neighborhood patrol units as another factor behind the lull in bloodletting.
But Tuesday’s attack highlighted the volatile situation in the provinces north of Baghdad. U.S. officials say al Qaeda is regrouping in the north after being pushed out of Baghdad and western Anbar province.
The attack on Tuesday was the worst since December 12, when a triple car bombing in the southern city of Amara killed 40 and wounded 125.
In Diyala on Tuesday, a suicide bomber attacked the funeral of a father and son who had worked as armed volunteers with the U.S. military, police said. Those killed and wounded were fellow members of the neighborhood patrols.
Police said the father and son had been killed hours earlier in a shootout with U.S. forces. The U.S. military said in a statement that its troops had killed two “criminals.”