A woman with explosives strapped to her body attacked the office of a Sunni group that had turned against al-Qaida in Iraq — one of two suicide bombings in Diyala province northeast of Baghdad that left at least 22 people dead Friday.
An Iraqi official claimed the woman was seeking revenge for her two sons who were killed fighting for al-Qaida.
The two brazen attacks were the latest in a series of al-Qaida assaults against members of the new “awakening groups” — mostly Sunnis including former insurgents who have begun cooperating with the Americans to rid their communities of extremists.
The first attack occurred at midmorning in Muqdadiyah when a woman detonated explosives in front of the building housing the office of the 1920 Revolution Brigade, a Sunni insurgent group whose members in the area switched sides this year and joined the fight against al-Qaida.
Police chief Brig. Gen. Mohammed al-Tamimi said 15 people were killed and 20 wounded. U.S. officials put the toll at 12 dead and 17 wounded.
Later Friday, a suicide car bomber struck at a checkpoint about 10 miles away, killing seven Iraqi soldiers and three members of a local anti-al-Qaida group, Iraqi army Capt. Saad al-Zuhairi said.
Al-Zuhairi, who was about 150 yards away, said the driver detonated his explosives when the guards asked to search the car.
Ex-Iraqi soldier describes blast
Ibrahim Bajalan, the head of the Diyala provincial council, said the female bomber was a former member of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party whose two sons joined al-Qaida and were killed by Iraqi security forces.
“She wanted to avenge the killing of her two sons,” he told The Associated Press, quoting what he said were reports from officials at the scene.
Jassim Jerad, a former Iraqi soldier who was injured in the Muqdadiyah bombing, said he saw a woman approaching the offices, then felt the force of the blast.
“I fell down, but stood up quickly to save my son, who was screaming,” he said from his hospital bed, while his 6-year-old son wept nearby.
Kuudur Alwan, a member of the anti-al-Qaida group, said he was buying groceries near the targeted building when he suddenly felt “heat hitting my chest and right leg.”
“I limped toward the building to see several of my awakening colleagues dead and their bodies left on the ground,” he said from his hospital bed in Jaluala.
Al-Qaida front group threatens further attacks
The attacks occurred three days after an al-Qaida front group, the Islamic State of Iraq, posted a message on an extremist Web site announcing a new campaign against members of awakening groups, which the U.S. credits with helping reduce violence in Baghdad and much of the country.
The al-Qaida statement announced formation of the “al-Sadiq Brigades” which would specialize in “killing every apostate and nonbeliever” who had thrown his support to the Shiite-led Iraqi government and its American allies.
In Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, gunmen ambushed three vehicles carrying members of the local anti-al-Qaida group late Thursday, killing five of them, police Brig. Gen. Mohammed al-Wakaa said.
U.S. working with Iraqis
American commanders are working with nearly 60,000 volunteers in the awakening groups to help provide security in wide areas of Iraq, including Diyala province, a farming and industrial region that extends from the suburbs of Baghdad to the Iranian border.
Diyala had been an al-Qaida stronghold from 2006 until last summer, when U.S. and Iraqi soldiers drove extremists from the provincial capital of Baqouba, which the terror movement had declared the capital of the Islamic State of Iraq.
U.S. officials have credited the awakening groups for much of the dramatic fall in violence in Baghdad and former Sunni insurgent strongholds such as Anbar province to the west of the capital.
The founder of the awakening movement, Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha, was killed in a bombing in September in Ramadi 10 days after meeting President Bush at a U.S. base in Anbar. Fifteen people were killed that same month when a suicide bomber struck a U.S.-sponsored reconciliation of Shiite and Sunni tribal sheiks.
An al-Qaida shift?
With the lost of many former sanctuaries, al-Qaida groups are believed to be shifting to the north. On Wednesday, U.S. military commanders told visiting Defense Secretary Robert Gates that they need more troops to confront al-Qaida fighters who have been pushed out of the Baghdad region.
The relative calm in Baghdad and other areas has encouraged an estimated 25,000 Iraqis to return home from Syria and other countries where they sought refuge during the high point of Sunni-Shiite massacres last year.
But the U.N. refugee agency warned Friday that many areas of the country remain too dangerous. William Spindler, spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, told reporters that many parts of Iraq lack clean drinking water, food and shelter, as well as proper health services and employment opportunities.
“In our view the situation in Iraq is not yet conducive to returning because of the lack of security, lack of services and so on,” Spindler said.