At least nine people died on Saturday when a suicide bomber struck the headquarters of a US-allied Sunni militia south of Baghdad, extending a recent sharp upturn in violence in Iraq.
The bomber detonated his payload as an Iraqi army contingent was visiting the premises of the local Sahwa “Awakening” movement in the town of Latifiyah to pay salaries, army officer Lieutenant Haidar al-Lami told AFP.
He added that another 23 people were wounded in the attack and that the killed and wounded included both Sahwas and regular Iraqi soldiers.
An interior ministry official in Baghdad said around 200 Sahwas had assembled at the headquarters to receive their salaries when the bomber struck.
“The suicide bomber was wearing military-style fatigues, which allowed him to sneak into the compound undetected,” the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The attack comes at the end of a particularly deadly week in Iraq, where a series of bombings have killed more than 70 people and wounded nearly 300.
The Sahwas, mostly made up of Sunni former insurgents who allied with US forces beginning in 2006 to drive out Al-Qaeda in Iraq, have played a crucial role in improving security in the war-battered country.
Saturday’s attack took place in a religiously mixed part of the Babel province once known as the “Triangle of Death” that saw scores of gruesome attacks in the years following the March 2003 US-led invasion.
It came amid an upturn in violence over the past week that saw a streak of bombings in Baghdad and a suicide truck bomb in the northern city of Mosul on Friday that killed five US soldiers and three Iraqi security force members.
The Mosul bombing was the deadliest attack on US forces in more than a year and underscored the lingering insecurity in some areas of the country. The US military views Mosul as the last urban bastion of Al-Qaeda in Iraq.
The city -- Iraq’s second largest -- has remained dangerous despite repeated US and Iraqi operations over the past several months, both because of ethnic divisions between its Sunni Arab and Kurdish residents and tribal rivalries.
In recent weeks, the US military has played down talk of a rise in violence, as its soldiers prepare to withdraw from Iraqi cities and major towns by June 30 and from the entire country by the end of 2011.
Security has improved dramatically since 2007 when Iraqi and US forces launched offensives against Al-Qaeda with the help of the Sahwas, who were trained by the US military but are now mostly funded by the Iraqi government.
But insurgents are still able to strike with deadly results. A total of 252 Iraqis were killed in violence in March, almost the same tally as the previous month but up from January, when 191 Iraqis died in unrest.
The attacks in Baghdad on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday killed at least 49 people and wounded 182.