/ 22 June 2008

Female suicide bomber kills at least 15 in Iraq

At least 15 people were killed and 35 wounded when a female suicide bomber blew herself up among police officers having lunch north of Baghdad on Sunday, Iraqi police and hospital sources said.

The attack took place in Baquba, capital of multi-ethnic Diyala province, where Sunni Islamist al-Qaeda militants have sought to stoke tensions despite a succession of military offensives that have put the group on the back foot.

Police and hospital sources said at least 15 people were killed in the attack, just outside a courthouse in Baquba, 65km north of Baghdad. A Reuters cameraman said he had counted 12 bodies taken to a nearby hospital.

Police said the woman walked over to a group of police officers as they ate lunch at an outdoor restaurant, then detonated explosives under her clothing. Several cars were set ablaze.

A number of female suicide bombers have carried out attacks in the past six months, mainly in Diyala.

Security officials have blamed those bombings on al-Qaeda, which they say has sought to recruit women because they can sometimes escape tight security checks on men.

Violence across Iraq has dropped to a four-year low, but Sunday’s bombing is the second big attack in the past week.

United States forces have blamed a rogue Shi’ite militia group for a truck bomb that killed 63 people in Baghdad last Tuesday. That was the deadliest attack in Baghdad in more than three months.

US officials accuse al-Qaeda insurgents of carrying out scores of major bombings that have killed thousands of people in Iraq in the past few years. But a sustained military campaign against al-Qaeda has pushed the group out of its traditional strongholds in western Anbar province and parts of Baghdad in the past year.

One region where al-Qaeda forces regrouped was in the northern city of Mosul, described by the US military as al-Qaeda’s last major urban stronghold. Iraqi security officials say al-Qaeda’s network has been broken in Mosul following an offensive there.

Operations in south
The Mosul operation was among several that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has ordered in the past four months as he tries to impose order on areas once under the control of Shi’ite militias or Sunni Arab al-Qaeda insurgents.

The most recent operation was launched last Thursday in the southern city of Amara, a stronghold of the Mehdi Army militia of anti-American Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

Iraqi forces took control of Amara without a shot being fired after al-Sadr ordered his supporters not to resist.

Major General Mohammed al-Askari, spokesperson for the Iraqi Defence Ministry, said on Sunday a series of supporting operations had been launched in other southern provinces to catch militants who had escaped from Amara.

The presence of thousands of Iraqi soldiers in Amara, 300km south-east of Baghdad, has made residents feel more secure.

”The situation is a lot different now. The militias and the Mehdi Army had controlled the city,” said Ahmed Hattam (34), the owner of an electronic appliance shop.

Louis Denkha (32), a Christian who owns a clothes shop, said: ”Now we see more women costumers … Before we used to hide the women’s lingerie, but now I display it inside my shop.” — Reuters