BAGHDAD, July 18 (Reuters) – A suicide bomber attacked government-backed Sunni militia on Sunday as they lined up to be paid on Baghdad’s southwestern outskirts, killing at least 39 and wounding 41, Iraqi security sources said.
In a second attack, a suicide bomber killed four and wounded six at a meeting of local Sunni militia leaders in western Iraq, near the Syrian border, police in Anbar province said.
The blast outside an Iraqi military base in the Sunni district of Radwaniya and the attack in Qaim in Anbar occurred as political deadlock continued following a March election that produced no outright winner and as yet no new government.
Sunni Islamist insurgents linked to al Qaeda have sought to exploit the political vacuum created by a failure of Sunni, Shi’ite and Kurdish factions to agree on a coalition government, and have carried out a series of attacks since the vote.
In Sunday’s bloodiest blast, the suicide bomber blew himself up among “Sahwa” militiamen, Sunni fighters who once allied with al Qaeda but turned on the militant group in 2006/07, helping U.S. forces turn the tide in the war.
“There were more than 85 people lined up in three lines at the main gate of the military base to receive salaries when a person approached us. When one of the soldiers tried to stop him, he blew himself up,” a survivor, 20-year-old Tayseer Mehsen, said at Mahmudiya hospital.
“I lost consciousness and woke up to find myself in hospital.”
All of the dead were Sahwa, while two soldiers numbered among the wounded, an Interior Ministry source said. Another security source said two of the dead were military officers.
Police put the number of dead at 39, but the Interior Ministry source said 43 had died. Conflicting death tolls are common in the chaos after an explosion.
‘NO STRANGERS AMONG US’
Local militia leader Mohammed al-Anbari said it was possible the attacker came from within Sahwa ranks. “There were no strangers among us,” he said. There have been a series of attacks against Sahwa leaders in Sunni areas around Baghdad in recent months, many attributed to acts of revenge by former fellow insurgents, or al Qaeda. Some have been blamed on long-running blood feuds between families.
The sectarian war between once dominant Sunnis and majority Shi’ites that kicked off after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion has largely subsided but a Sunni Islamist insurgency persists.
The U.S. military has increasingly taken a backseat role since pulling out of Iraqi urban centres in June last year and U.S. troops will end combat operations on Aug. 31 ahead of a full withdrawal next year. (Additional reporting by Suadad al-Salhy, Waleed Ibrahim, and Reuters Television in Baghdad, Fadel al-Badrani in Falluja; writing by Michael Christie; editing by Philippa Fletcher)