Police said Wednesday that children were used in a weekend car bombing in which the driver gained permission to park in a busy shopping area after he pointed out that he was leaving his children in the back seat.
The account appeared to confirm one given Tuesday by a U.S. general. He said children were used in a Sunday bombing in northern Baghdad and labeled it a brutal new tactic put to use by insurgents to battle a 5-week-old security crackdown in the capital.
Maj. Gen. Michael Barbero, deputy director for regional operations on the Joint Staff, said the vehicle used in the attack was waved through a U.S. military checkpoint because two children were visible in the back seat. He said it was the first reported use of children in a car bombing in Baghdad.
"Children in the back seat lowered suspicion, (so) we let it move through, they parked the vehicle, the adults run out and detonate it with the children in the back," Barbero told reporters in Washington. "The brutality and ruthless nature of this enemy hasn't changed."
Other U.S. officials said later that three Iraqi bystanders were killed in the attack near a marketplace in the northern Baghdad neighborhood of Azamiyah, besides the two children, and seven people were injured. The officials had no other details, including the estimated ages of the children.
Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, confirmed Barbero's account but said he couldn't provide more details.
Eight reportedly killed
Two policemen, speaking on condition of anonymity because of security concerns, said the general was referring to a car bomb Sunday that killed eight Iraqis and wounded 28 others in the predominantly Shiite district of Shaab. The attack targeted people cooking food at open-air grills in the street as part of a Shiite Muslim holiday commemorating the anniversary of the Prophet Muhammad's death.
The reports could not be independently confirmed and key details were missing from the police accounts, such as the ages and genders of the children, whether they were among the victims, and what happened to their bodies.
A senior official in the Shaab police department said an investigation was opened after the owner of a shop in the market district said he and other residents initially told a man he could not park his car on the street but relented after seeing the children in the back seat.
Another police officer also said witnesses had reported seeing two children inside the car before it exploded. He said three other cases had been registered since last year in which women and children were used in parked car bombings, although they reportedly got out of the cars before those explosions.
The U.S. military has warned that insurgents are finding new ways to bypass stepped-up security to kill as many people as possible and spread panic. A series of bombings using toxic chlorine since Jan. 28 also raised concerns.
Insurgent tactics have evolved since the war started four years ago and youths often have been among their victims, but the use of children as decoys would signal a new level of ruthlessness in the fight for control of the capital.
Past child casualties
Iraqi children have been drawn into the fight in the past, however.
In the deadliest cases, a suicide car bomber sped up to American soldiers distributing candy to children July 2005 and detonated his explosives, killing up to 27 people, including a dozen children and a U.S. soldier.
That occurred about nine months after 35 Iraqi children were killed in a string of bombs that exploded as American troops were handing out candy at a government-sponsored celebration to inaugurate a sewage plant in west Baghdad.
Last April, a Marine told an Associated Press reporter in Ramadi that he was shot at by insurgents who were holding children. Other Marines on patrol in the city west of Baghdad have said Sunni insurgents ask children to check out American defenses or warn them of approaching convoys.
And in September, U.S. soldiers told an AP reporter in Baghdad that children often throw rocks at their vehicles, in what they suspect is an attempt either to lure them into firing range of hidden snipers or to goad the soldiers into shooting at the children.
According to the U.N.'s mission in Iraq, at least 204 children were killed and 777 were wounded in fighting in 2006.