A suicide bomber killed a woman and wounded five people when he attacked a crowd of elderly and disabled senior citizens in the southern Iraqi city of Basra on Tuesday, police said. The same day, a car bomb killed seven people and injured 18 in a crowded Baghdad market.
The crowd in Basra was gathering to receive their monthly pension.
Police sources had earlier said the blast targeted a senior citizens’ home neighboring the social care center.
Police said only one of the two explosive belts the bomber was wearing detonated. Witnesses saw three bomb disposal experts at the scene. Police said they were trying to defuse the second bomb on the attacker’s corpse.
The blast occurred in the northern Basra district of Jamiyat.
Suicide bombers have often struck at civilian targets in predominantly Shiite cities such as Basra as part of a campaign to draw Iraqis into a civil war.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki declared a state of emergency in Basra last month in a bid to crack down on militias, armed gangs and feuding Shiite factions threatening oil exports. But violence has not eased.
U.S. raids kill insurgents
The violence came as U.S. forces hunting insurgents linked to al-Qaida in Iraq killed 15 gunmen in simultaneous raids north of Baghdad on Tuesday, the U.S. military said.
“The raids were targeting individuals associated with a suspected senior al-Qaida in Iraq network member targeted in previous coalition operations,” a statement said of the operation near the insurgent stronghold of Baquba.
Al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed in a U.S. air strike on a “safe house” near Baquba on June 7.
A man identifying himself as Mohammed Jabar al-Qaduri said two of the dead men were his sons Jassem and Mazen and that all the victims had worked at an adjacent poultry farm.
“They did not attack any Americans or Humvees. We don’t have any problems with the Americans. We don’t have any foreigners here,” he said, wearing a traditional Arab headdress and sitting slumped on the dirt ground in the shade of a truck.
Reuters footage showed 13 bodies covered with blankets lying in the back of open trucks. All were male. A police source said one of the dead was a 12-year-old boy.
The U.S. military said U.S. soldiers came under small arms fire from the roof of a house in the village of Qaduri Ali al Shahin, 9 miles north of Baquba, as the operation got under way.
“The ground force returned fire, killing nine armed terrorists on the rooftop, and an additional two armed terrorists who were identified firing on coalition forces from next to the building were killed by coalition aircraft supporting fire,” it said in a statement.
Aircraft under fire
An aircraft flying in support of the troops hit power lines and had to make a controlled landing, the military said. None of the crew were injured. A local resident reported seeing an Apache helicopter gunship land during the raid.
“Three armed suspects were then killed by another coalition aircraft as they attempted to attack the downed aircraft,” the statement said.
After securing the aircraft, troops attacked a second building, where the suspected insurgents had fled after the initial firefight, the military said. One man was killed by a sniper as he tried to attack the troops from a nearby rooftop.
“The force cleared the buildings, detaining the three terrorists. The captured individuals, who fled earlier, were found hiding amidst nine women. None of the women were injured.”
It said U.S. troops had found 10 AK-47 assault rifles, one shotgun, one pistol and a crate of explosives.
Reuters footage showed a bloodied mattress on the floor of one of the houses. Two spent bullet casings lay nearby. Residents said the 12-year-old boy had been sleeping on the mattress when he was shot.
As the bodies were loaded onto the trucks, one man lifted up the blanket covering one victim and cried out: “Why God, why?”
Another man reached into the pocket of one corpse and took out a handful of sweets, to show that it was the body of the boy.
In the wake of Zarqawi’s death, U.S. and Iraqi forces have stepped up raids in Baquba and other parts of Iraq in their hunt for insurgents.