Baghdad: Two suicide bombers targeting members of a government-backed, anti-al Qaeda militia struck within hours of each other early Sunday, killing at least 48 people and wounding 52, Iraqi officials said.
The bombings were the deadliest in a series of attacks across Iraq Sunday that were aimed at the Sons of Iraq, a Sunni group also known as Sahwa that works with government forces to fight al Qaeda in Iraq. The attacks highlighted the stiff challenges the country faces as the US scales back its forces in Iraq, leaving their Iraqi counterparts in charge of security.
The first attack Sunday morning — the deadliest against Iraq`s security forces in months — claimed at least 43 lives. It occurred at a checkpoint near a military base where Sahwa members were 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 from Sahwa, the officials said.
A military official at the base 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.
Iraqi military spokesman Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi said the bomber struck at 7 a.m. at a checkpoint near the military facility.
The area was immediately closed off, and Iraqi helicopters could be seen flying over the site.
In the second attack, a suspected militant stormed a local Sahwa headquarters in the Anbar province town of Qaim, near the Syrian border, and opened fire on those inside. Sahwa fighters returned fire, wounding the attacker, who then blew himself up as they gathered around him, killing three of the fighters and wounding three others, two police officials said, also speaking on condition of anonymity. Qaim is a former insurgent stronghold.
While violence has dropped dramatically over the past two years in the country, Iraqi security forces remain a favorite target for insurgents bent on destabilizing the country and its Shiite-led government.
The Sahwa fighters have played a key role in the reduction of violence in Iraq since they first rose up against their former al Qaeda allies in late 2006, joining the US military and government forces in the fight against the terror group.
In another attack, roughly at the same time as that in Qaim, gunmen in a speeding car opened fire on a Sahwa checkpoint in Mahaweel, about 56 kilometers (35 miles) south of Baghdad, wounding one, according to Babil police spokesman Maj. Muthana Khalid.
Khalid said a roadside bomb went off about 30 minutes later, hitting a car driven by another Sahwa member in Haswa, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of Baghdad. The Sahwa member was wounded in the attack.
More than four months after an inconclusive parliamentary election in March, Iraq has no government as politicians continue to 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 US troops in Iraq is dropping and Iraq`s nascent security forces are taking over security in the country. All US combat units are scheduled to leave Iraq by the end of next month and the last American soldier by the end of next year.
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 in Radwaniya was more reminiscent of the type insurgents used in the past to discourage people from joining the security forces.