The US military yesterday blamed al-Qaeda in Iraq for a double suicide bombing that killed at least 35 people and wounded 65 during a wedding procession through a crowd of bystanders cheering the bride and groom in a town northeast of Baghdad.
The attack occurred on Thursday evening in Balad Ruz, a predominantly Shiite town 72km northeast of Baghdad amid heightened worries that al-Qaeda in Iraq is regrouping despite recent security gains by US-led forces.
The terror network announced on April 19 that it was launching a one-month offensive against US troops and US-allied Sunnis.
“Al-Qaeda in Iraq continues their malicious tactics against the people of Iraq and their way of life,” the US military said in a statement yesterday. “They seek violence and chaos in Iraq.”
The first bomb was detonated by an Iraqi female suicide bomber imitating pregnancy, the military said. A male bomber also blew himself up. The military gave a lower casualty toll, however, of 31 dead and 52 wounded, including children.
The woman bomber blew herself up as people were dancing and clapping while members of the passing wedding party played music.
The male bomber attacked minutes later as police and ambulances arrived at the scene, said Major General Abdul-Karim al-Rubaie, head of the Diyala provincial operations center that oversees Balad Ruz.
The two explosions tore through the stalls and stores that lined the area, and al-Rubaie said at least 35 people were killed and 65 suffered wounds, including the bride and groom.
Diyala has been a flashpoint in the battle against al-Qaeda in Iraq, which the US military says has been increasingly using women as suicide bombers. Explosive belts are easier to conceal under female clothing and women are often not treated with the same suspicion as men.
Two suicide bombings staged by women last week in Diyala killed a dozen people.
Lieutenant General Lloyd Austin, the No. 2 US commander, said last week that al-Qaeda in Iraq was trying to regroup after suffering a devastating blow last year when thousands of Sunni tribesmen turned against the terrorist group blamed for most of Iraq’s car bombings and suicide attacks.
Thursday’s suicide attacks came hours after a bomb-rigged parked car exploded in the capital when a US patrol went by in a crowded area, leaving a US soldier and at least nine Iraqis dead. The attack also wounded 26 Iraqis and two American soldiers.
The soldier’s death in the attack raised to at least 4,064 the number of US military personnel who have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003.
US soldiers also find themselves facing intensified fighting with Shiite extremists, particularly in Baghdad’s militia stronghold of Sadr City.
Twelve people were wounded in overnight clashes in Sadr City, police and health officials said.
The US military charges that Iranian-backed special forces are leading the attacks against US-led forces in Sadr City. Iraq’s government has sent a delegation of five Shiite politicians to Iran carrying documents and other material they claim indicates Tehran is supplying weapons and training for Shiite militiamen who are fighting US and Iraqi troops.
Iran denies it is fueling violence in Iraq, saying it is trying to promote stability in the neighboring country.
Meanwhile, an Air Force MQ-1 Predator unmanned drone crashed early yesterday northwest of Balad, 80km north of Baghdad, the military said. It said mechanical failure was suspected in the crash.