A suicide bomber attacked recruits waiting outside a police station Tuesday in Iraq’s restive Diyala province, killing 28 people and wounding 45, witnesses and Interior Ministry officials said.
The bomber walked up to the line of recruits in the province’s mainly Arab district of Jalawla, about 80 miles northeast of Baghdad, and set off his explosives. The bombing bore the hallmarks of an attack by Sunni Arab militant groups such as Al Qaeda in Iraq.
“There was black smoke everywhere, dead bodies on the ground, and people panicking and helping to transfer the injured to the hospital,” witness Mohammed Adnan said.
The Iraqi security forces and U.S. military have been conducting a monthlong offensive in Diyala against Al Qaeda in Iraq. Relations are tense there among Sunni Muslim Arabs, Shiite Muslims and Kurds. The governor of the province, Raad Tamimi, said militants were trying to create an impression that they remained strong.
Jalawla had been under the control of Kurdish fighters, or peshmerga, from northern Iraq, who were replaced this month by an Iraqi army unit. The army is also taking over from peshmerga in the province’s largely Kurdish district of Khanaqin.
The attack followed a suicide bombing Sunday night that killed 25 people at a tribal sheik’s banquet in Abu Ghraib, a western Baghdad suburb.
The nearly back-to-back attacks in Abu Ghraib and Diyala were a reminder that Sunni militant groups remain a threat despite a dramatic decline in violence in the last year.
A car bomb also exploded in Tikrit, the hometown of the late dictator Saddam Hussein. The blast killed five civilians and wounded eight in the city center, a security official said.
The violence comes amid widespread frustration with the perceived lack of political progress in Baghdad.
The parliament ended its summer session this month without passing legislation on holding provincial elections, raising questions about how soon the vote can be held. Former Sunni insurgents, who boycotted the last local polling in January 2005, are eager to run for office and get a voice in government.
Negotiators for Prime Minister Nouri Maliki are bogged down in talks over a long-term security agreement with the United States, despite a December deadline for a deal.
The Shiite-led government has also initiated a crackdown on leaders and members of the U.S.-funded Sons of Iraq movement, which includes many former Sunni insurgents who allied themselves with American forces in 2007 to fight Al Qaeda in Iraq. Since May, Iraqi security forces have started arresting Sunni fighters.
Leaders of the Sons of Iraq have warned that the measures could drive some of their men back to fighting the government.
Times staff writers Caesar Ahmed and Raheem Salman contributed to this report.
Fears for the future
An attempt to kill a cleric adds to fears that gangland-style violence is returning to Basra, Iraq. latimes.com/babylon