BAGHDAD, (AP) – A suicide bomber targeting army soldiers and members of a government-backed militia lining up to receive their paychecks killed at least 43 people and wounded 46 on Sunday, Iraqi officials said.
Violence has dropped dramatically in Iraq in the past two years, but members of the security forces remain the target of repeated attacks blamed on militants trying to destabilize the country as the United States moves ahead with plans to reduce its forces.
The Sunday morning bombing outside a military base happened as members of the anti-al-Qaeda Sunni group, known as Sons of Iraq or Sahwa, lined up to receive paychecks in the mostly Sunni district of Radwaniya southwest of Baghdad.
At least six of the dead were Iraqi soldiers, 34 were Sahwa members and three were accountants, according to hospital and police officials. At least 13 of the wounded were Iraqi Army soldiers, four were accountants and the rest were believed to be Sahwa members, the officials said.
A military official at the base where the attack took place said the explosion was the work of one suicide bomber wearing an explosives vest.
All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media. The area was immediately closed off, and Iraqi helicopters could be seen flying over the site.
Old insurgents, new allies
The Sahwa fighters have played a key role in the reduction of violence in Iraq since they first rose up against the al-Qaeda allies in late 2006, joining the U.S. military and government forces in the fight against the terror group.
More than four months after an inconclusive parliamentary election in March, Iraq has no government as politicians bicker over who will lead it. The impasse has raised fears that militants will exploit the political vacuum to re-ignite sectarian violence that brought Iraq to the brink of civil war in 2006 and 2007.
The attacks against the security forces and the Sahwa are especially worrying because they come at a time when the number of U.S. troops in Iraq is dropping and Iraq’s nascent security forces are taking over security in the country. All U.S. combat units are scheduled to leave Iraq by the end of next month and the last American soldier by the end of next year.
Sunday’s bombing was the deadliest against Iraq’s security forces in months.
Insurgents have used an array of attacks to intimidate and kill security forces, such as drive-by shootings, bombs attached to the undercarriage of vehicles and bombing houses where security forces live. But Sunday’s attack was more reminiscent of the type insurgents used to discourage people from joining the security forces.