Image: Airstrike damage
Karim Kadim  /  AP
Iraqi girls look at a damaged school building after an airstrike in the Shiite stronghold of Sadr City in Baghdad on Wednesday.
updated 5/1/2008 4:49:48 PM ET 2008-05-01T20:49:48

Two suicide bombers struck a wedding convoy driving Thursday through a crowded market district northeast of Baghdad as bystanders cheered it on, killing at least 35 people and wounding 65, officials said.

In the capital, a car bomb exploded as a U.S. patrol passed by in a crowded area earlier Thursday, killing one U.S. soldier and at least nine Iraqis. The attack wounded 26 Iraqis and two U.S. soldiers.

The attacks come amid heightened fears that al-Qaida in Iraq is regrouping despite recent security gains by U.S.-led forces who also face intensified attacks by Shiite extremists, with clashes concentrated mainly in Baghdad's militia stronghold of Sadr City.

The suicide bombers struck as people were dancing and clapping while sitting on car roofs and members of the wedding party were playing music in Balad Ruz, a predominantly Shiite town 45 miles northeast of Baghdad.

The first attacker was a woman, according to Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim al-Rubaie, the head of the Diyala provincial operations center that oversees Balad Ruz.

A man blew himself up minutes later as police and ambulances arrived at the scene, he added.

The explosions tore through the stalls and stores that lined the area, and al-Rubaie said at least 35 people were killed and 65 wounded.

The U.S. military in northern Iraq only said there were multiple explosions in Balad Ruz and gave a lower casualty figure of 26 dead and 52 wounded.

Diyala has been a flashpoint in the battle against al-Qaida in Iraq, which the U.S. military says has been increasingly using women as suicide bombers. Explosive belts are easier to conceal under women's clothing and they are often not treated with the same suspicion as men.

The attacks were the latest in a series of suicide bombings in Diyala, including two female suicide bombings last week that killed a dozen people.

Al-Qaida trying to regroup
The No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, said last week that al-Qaida in Iraq was trying to regroup after suffering a devastating blow last year when thousands of Sunni tribesmen turned against the terrorist group that is blamed for most car bombings and suicide attacks.

The terror network announced on April 19 that it was launching a one-month offensive against U.S. troops and U.S.-allied Sunnis.

The parked car bomb targeting a U.S. combat patrol in Baghdad also exploded in a crowded market district, an insurgent tactic aimed at maximizing civilian casualties.

Several cars and a U.S. Humvee were badly damaged in the blast that shattered windows of surrounding buildings and left a one-meter (yard) crater in the asphalt.

Iraqi police said nine civilians were killed, including three women and one child, and 25 people were wounded in the attack. The U.S. military said a soldier also died later in the day of wounds sustained in the blast.

The soldier's death raised to at least 4,064 members of the U.S. military who have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

Iraqi citizens chased and captured a militant who was seen detonating the car bomb with a mobile phone and turned him over to Iraqi police, the U.S. military said. Two other accomplices were also detained, it said.

Clashes between U.S.-backed Iraqi troops and Shiite militiamen also continued in Baghdad.

The U.S. military said it killed 18 militants in Sadr City, including a senior member of what they say are Iranian-backed forces, in an airstrike.

Health officials said 10 people, including at least two women and a child, were killed and 27 people wounded in the fighting. It could not immediately be determined if any of militants killed were among them.

Six al-Qaida militants also were killed in the northern city of Mosul, the military said.

Allegations against Iran
The Iraqi government, meanwhile, sent a delegation of five Shiite politicians to Iran carrying documents and other material they claim indicates that Tehran is supplying weapons and training fighters who are locked in a violent standoff with U.S. and Iraqi troops.

The visit comes as U.S. military has stepped up its allegations that Iran is continuing to train and arm Shiite militias despite Tehran's insistence that it is not fueling violence in Iraq but trying to promote stability in the neighboring country.

The fighting in Sadr City — a base for the powerful Mahdi Army militia — intensified after anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr last week threatened to unleash an "open war" against U.S.-led forces who try to exert control, with the help of Iraqi forces, over an area containing nearly half of the Baghdad's population.

Al-Maliki reiterated his vow to disarm the militants, saying he was determined to "fight outlaws until they give in to the sovereignty of the state."

The Shiite leader also appealed to clerics and tribal sheiks in Sadr City "to do their duty and not to allow civilians to be turned into human shields and houses, mosques, markets and schools to be turned into places to store weapons."

U.S.-backed Iraqi forces also seized a large stockpile of ammunition including 10 armor-piercing roadside bombs and dozens of rockets, at a mosque in Abu Dshir along with dozens of rounds of rockets, the military said.

U.S.-backed Iraqi forces seized a large stockpile of ammunition including 10 armor-piercing roadside bombs and dozens of rockets, at a mosque in Abu Dshir, a Shiite enclave in a predominantly Sunni area in southern Baghdad, the military said.

This contains reports from The Associated Press and Reuters.


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