Suicide bomber kills 8 in western Iraq

March 3, 2011 4:59:56 AM PST
A suicide bomber struck a group of soldiers collecting their paychecks Thursday in a western Iraqi city, killing eight people, police said. Violence has dropped significantly from the bloody days of the insurgency, but al-Qaida-linked militants often target Iraqi security personnel because they are seen as allied with the Shiite-led government. The militants also want to intimidate new recruits to the security services.

A suicide bomber with explosives strapped to his chest walked up to a crowd of soldiers collecting their paychecks at a bank in Haditha, 140 miles (220 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, said Waid Khalif, the deputy commander of the city's police force.

The bomber set off his explosives while some of the soldiers were inside the bank and others were outside waiting to go in.

The police commander said six soldiers and two civilians were killed in the attack and 11 people were wounded. He said a curfew has been imposed on the city.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility but Iraqi security personnel are often targeted by al-Qaida. Haditha is known for the 2005 incident in which a group of Marines went on a rampage and killed two dozen civilians, sparking outrage across Iraq.

Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, who led a political coalition heavily supported by Iraq's minority Sunnis, has turned down a position in the new government, a spokeswoman said. The step could further marginalize Sunnis.

Allawi's political bloc, Iraqiya, narrowly won the most seats in last year's parliamentary election, but he was outmaneuvered by Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who kept his job after drawn-out negotiations. As a compromise to keep Allawi -- and his Sunni supporters -- in the political process, the U.S. pushed for him to head a council that would serve as a check on al-Maliki's powers.

Allawi has wavered on whether he would take the position as head of the National Council for Strategic Policies as both sides argued over how much power the body would have. If the decision announced Thursday holds, it would strengthen al-Maliki's grip on power. It would also again risk alienating Sunni Arabs whose marginalization after the fall of their patron Saddam Hussein helped fuel the insurgency.

A spokeswoman for Iraqiya, Maysoun al-Damlouji, said that because there have been no developments on creating and empowering the council, Allawi thought there would be "no point in chairing the council."

From the beginning, al-Maliki and Allawi supporters clashed on how powerful the council would really be. Allawi and Iraqiya wanted the council's powers and his leadership of it to be voted on by parliament, fully funded and able to overrule al-Maliki's decisions; al-Maliki's supporters wanted it to be limited to an advisory position with little power.

Baghdad's mayor has become the latest Iraqi political figure to fall victim to anti-government protests sweeping the country. A government spokesman, Ali al-Moussawi, said Mayor Sabir al-Esawi submitted his resignation to al-Maliki on Thursday. He said the prime minister has not decided whether to accept it.

Thousands of people took to the streets Feb. 25 in Baghdad and other cities in anti-government protests railing against corruption and shoddy public services. Two governors have already stepped down as a result of the protests, which were inspired by the demonstrations in Egypt and Tunisia.