BAGHDAD (AP) – A suicide bomber mingled into a crowd of U.S.-allied Sunni paramilitaries in Iraq on Saturday and detonated his explosives belt, killing seven and wounding 22 others waiting in line for their salaries, Iraqi police said.
The 11 a.m. explosion took place outside the military headquarters in the town of Jbala, about 35 miles (50 kilometers) south of Baghdad, said police spokesman Maj. Muthana Khalid. The bomber walked into the group of about 250 Awakening Council members and blew himself up.
The decision of tens of thousands of Sunni fighters to turn against the insurgency starting in 2006 has been key to reducing violence in Iraq, but the so-called Awakening Councils are constantly being targeted by militants. The Iraqi government, however, has been suspicious of the fighters, maintaining that some retain ties to the insurgency.
Salaries for the paramilitaries, which were once paid by the U.S. military, have been delayed for two months and there has been concerns among the paramilitaries that the Shiite-led government could disband them.
There are some 90,000 Awakening fighters and their tensions with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government came to a head last month in central Baghdad when the arrest of one of their leaders triggered a shootout with U.S.-backed Iraqi forces.
Al-Maliki later said the government crackdown, which escalated into two-day gunbattle, was not politically motivated but followed a six-month investigation that tied the commander to crimes and subversion.
Saturday’s blast came on the heels of a horrific explosion Friday, believed to have been carried out by Sunni extremists, when a suicide truck driver detonated a ton of explosives near a police headquarters in the northern city of Mosul.
Five U.S. soldiers were killed in the blast, the deadliest attack against American troops in more than a year. Besides the five Americans, two Iraqi policemen also died and at least 62 people, including one American soldier and 27 civilians, were wounded, U.S. and Iraqi officials said. The U.S. military said Iraqi police were the bomber’s target and that the Americans were caught up as bystanders. The attack, is likely to increase pressure on Iraq’s prime minister to ask American combat troops to stay in Mosul after the June 30 deadline for them to pull out of Iraqi cities.