BAGHDAD (AP) – A suicide bomber detonated his explosives in front of a high school north of Baghdad on Tuesday, killing a bystander and wounding 21 people including students and teachers a day after a deadly attack on a funeral.
The attack came about 8:30 a.m., just as students were arriving for the beginning of the school day. A 25-year-old man was killed in the bombing, which wounded 12 students, eight teachers and one policeman, according to a doctor at Baqouba General Hospital. The doctor spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared a reprisal attack.
The target of the latest bombing was unclear: The school is next to the provincial governor’s office and a municipal building in Baqouba, 60 kilometers (35 miles) northeast of Baghdad.
Baqouba is the turbulent capital of Diyala province, which has defied a nationwide trend toward lower violence over the past six months. One reason for the continued bloodshed in Diyala is that al-Qaeda in Iraq fighters fled there after Sunni insurgents and clan members joined with American troops to oust them from much of Baghdad and Anbar province to the west. However, the Diyala attack followed three suicide attacks in as many days in Sunni Arab areas thought to have been largely rid of al-Qaeda militants.
U.S. commanders credit anti-al-Qaeda fighters from Sunni groups, a six-month cease-fire by a Shiite militia and the dispatch of 30,000 additional U.S. soldiers last year for the reduction in violence. But there has been an uptick in high-profile bombings in recent weeks, suggesting al-Qaeda remains a potent threat.
On Monday, a suicide bomber apparently targeting a senior security official blew himself up inside a funeral tent, killing 18 people in Hajaj, a village about midway along the nearly 20 miles (30 kilometers) between Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit and the oil hub of Beiji, 155 miles (250 kilometers) north of Baghdad. But police said the attack bore the hallmarks of al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Witnesses said about 70 people were inside the tent when the attacker set off his explosives soon after entering.
Officials said the target appeared to be Ahmed Abdullah, deputy governor in charge of security for Salahuddin province, of which Tikrit is the capital. He escaped unharmed.
Abdullah was a relative of the man being honored at the funeral, Antar Mohammed Abed, a former bodyguard of Saddam’s wife, Sajida Khairallah Tulfah, who became a farmer after returning to Hajaj following the ouster of the late dictator’s regime five years ago.
Abed’s son and a grandson were among the 18 killed, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
As a relative, Abdullah should have been sitting close to the son and grandson, since family members take the seats closest to the entrance on such occasions to be the first to receive visitors.
Awad Jassim, a 25-year-old laborer hired by Abed’s family to make tea and coffee for mourners, said he was only a few yards (meters) from the tent when the explosion ripped down the tent, sending him running for cover. “Later, I returned to the tent when I heard the voices of the wounded begging for help,” he said. “There was chaos everywhere, but we managed to carry out the dead and the wounded.”
The attack came one day after a teenage suicide bomber targeted U.S.-backed, anti-al-Qaeda fighters near the former insurgent stronghold of Fallujah in Anbar province west of Baghdad. Six people were killed by that blast.
On Saturday, three suicide bombers attacked a police station in Ramadi, Anbar’s provincial capital. Guards killed one attacker, but the other two detonated their explosives at the entrance, killing at least five officers. Meanwhile, a soldier killed over the weekend south of Baghdad was the first American casualty in a roadside bomb attack on the newly introduced, heavily armored MRAP, Mine-Resistant, Ambush-Protected vehicle, a military spokeswoman said Tuesday.
The hull of the huge armored truck is v-shaped, designed to deflect blasts from roadside bombs, a weapon that has killed more American soldiers than any other tactic used by Sunni insurgents and militia fighters in Iraq.
The soldier who died Saturday was the gunner who sits atop the MRAP vehicle. Three crew members tucked inside the cabin were wounded. The vehicle rolled over after the blast and it was not clear how the gunner died, whether from wounds in the explosion or in the subsequent roll-over.
Maj. Alayne P. Conway, deputy spokeswoman for the 3rd Infantry Division, said the attack and the death were under investigation. here now are more than 1,500 of the costly vehicles in service in Iraq and the Pentagon is working to get at least 12,000 more into the theater, using $21 billion provided by Congress.
The sophisticated vehicles are being built and put into service in a bid to provide soldiers and Marines more protection than is offered by armored Humvees, which have flat bottoms which absorb the shock waves from a blast. The bottom of an MRAP also is 36 inches above the ground, while Humvees sit much closer to the roadway.
In Baghdad, meanwhile, Iraq’s parliament on Tuesday passed a law to change the Saddam-era flag, meeting the demands of Iraq’s Kurdish minority who threatened not to fly the banner during a pan-Arab meeting in the Kurdish-run north next month.