Two suicide attacks in Iraq, including the deadliest to hit Baghdad since August, killed at least 56 people and wounded at least 42 on Tuesday and Wednesday. The attacks came days after the US military delivered an upbeat report on security in the country, reporting that levels of violence had dropped over the past year.
A female suicide bomber attacked a checkpoint of neighbourhood patrol volunteers Wednesday morning in Baquba, the capital of Diyala province, reports Reuters. The attack killed 10 and wounded eight, police said.
It was the latest in a wave of suicide bomb attacks that has appeared to intensify in recent days and weeks, even as overall levels of violence in Iraq have fallen.
Two policemen and four patrol volunteers were among the dead, police said. Among those killed was Abdul-Rafaa al-Nidawi, whom police described as the coordinator between U.S. forces and the volunteer patrols in the city.
On Tuesday, a suicide bombing killed 36 and wounded at least 35 others in Baghdad's Zayouna neighborhood, reports The Washington Post. The attack, described as the deadliest in months in Iraq's capital, occurred just as many residents "are saying they feel more secure and express hope that the worst is behind them."
The target Tuesday was a crowd that had gathered to mourn Nabil al-Azzawi, a victim of a car bombing four days before. A teacher, he was one of at least seven people killed Friday at the crowded intersection at Tayaran Square, according to neighbors and an Iraqi official.
The Azzawis are a Sunni Muslim family, neighbors said, with relatives in Diyala province, where some of Iraq's worst violence has occurred. On Tuesday, the family was hosting the third and final day of the funeral service outdoors in a private garden. The property belonged to Mr. Azzawi's brother, and was located in a Zayouna enclave known as Officer's City, a relatively peaceful part of eastern Baghdad.
An Iraqi army spokesman, Brig. Gen. Qasim Ata' Zahil, blamed the attack on the Diyala network of the Sunni insurgent group Al Qaeda in Iraq. Authorities here nearly always blame suicide bombings on the group, because the tactic is not generally used by other militant groups.
Police put the suicide attack's toll to 36, making it the most fatal Baghdad bombing since the summer, reports the Associated Press.
The suicide bombing was one in a string of attacks Tuesday, reports The New York Times, including one on a police patrol in the same Baghdad neighborhood. At least 40 people were killed across Iraq "just hours after revelers celebrated the new year in public places for the first time in years."
The Zayuna blast was unusual not only for its heavy toll but also for its location: a neighborhood that has a large Iraqi military and police presence with many checkpoints and barriers intended to prevent attackers from entering to the area. An Iraqi military base is also near the site of the bombing, a mixed area of Shiites and Sunnis.
Mohanad Saleh, who owns a travel and transport company in the capital's middle-class neighborhood of Zayouna near the site of the blast, described the scene as "horrifying."
... "It's a terrible thing to happen to mourners who were already experiencing grief due to the loss of their loved one," Saleh said. "Now they face this terrorism. It's a very agonizing thing to start the first day of the year with."
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki issued New Year's Day greetings the same day on Al Iraqiya television, calling the conclusion of 2007 an "end of triumphs and success," and saying the new year will be one of reconstruction and economic development," the L.A. Times reported.
The bombings came days after the top American military commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, gave a positive if cautious assessment of the security situation in the country. Gen. Petraeus said Saturday that violent attacks in Iraq had "fallen by 60 percent in June, but cautioned that security gains were 'tenuous' and 'fragile,' requiring political and economic progress to cement them," The New York Times reported.
Speaking to reporters in an end-of-year briefing at the American Embassy in Baghdad, General Petraeus said that coalition-force casualties were down "substantially," and that civilian casualties had fallen "dramatically."
"The level of attacks for about the last 11 weeks or so has been one not seen consistently since the late spring and summer of 2005," he said.
... He also credited the Iraqis' own "surge" of more than 100,000 soldiers and police officers, the rejection of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia by the Sunni awakening movement in former insurgent strongholds, and the cease-fire by the Mahdi Army, a Shiite militia loyal to the cleric Moktada al-Sadr, although he said some "splinter elements" continued to operate.
The data presented, compiled from both US and Iraqi records, "showed a sharp fall in civilian deaths from their peak between mid-2006 and mid-2007, the rate of decline appeared to level off in the past two months," reports The New York Times.
In related news, the Iraqi government "took a small step towards national reconciliation by sending a draft amnesty bill to the parliament speaker," reports Al Jazeera.