BAQUBA, Iraq (Reuters) - Two bombs exploded as members of a government-backed Sunni militia gathered to collect their pay in the Iraqi city of Baquba Thursday, killing six people and wounding dozens, security and health officials said.
A suicide bomber detonated an explosive vest among members of the Sahwa militia near the gates of a military headquarters in western Baquba, and a car bomb blew up nearby a few minutes later, security sources and witnesses said.
Baquba, the capital of restive Diyala province and a former al Qaeda stronghold, is about 65 km northeast of Baghdad.
The attack underscored the fragility of Iraq’s security situation as the United States pulls its remaining 33,000 troops out of Iraq by December 31. Military officials say militants could step up attacks.
Late Wednesday, three motorcycles packed with explosives blew up outside three cafes in central Basra, Iraq’s southern oil hub. The blasts killed 12 people and wounded 70 others, said the head of the provincial health department.
Members of the Sahwa, a Sunni militia that took up arms against al Qaeda and helped turn the tide of the war, are frequent targets of the Sunni insurgency in Iraq.
Sahwa member Younis Mohammed was among those waiting for his pay when the bombs went off in Baquba. He said militiamen were being admitted to the base in groups as a security measure.
“We heard the sound of an explosion inside the headquarters followed by shooting. We felt panicked, fearful and confused and we started running to the main street in fear the explosion was to be followed by another,” Mohammed said.
“We saw a civilian car heading towards us and we felt it was a suicide car bomb. Then it went off and I flew into the air and then hit the ground,” he said. “I saw at least five or six people who were only body parts.”
Faris al-Azzawi, a spokesman for the Diyala province health department, said the blasts killed six people and wounded 35.
An Interior Ministry source put the toll at nine dead and 22 wounded, while a source at Baquba’s main hospital said five were killed and 28 wounded.
The hospital source said two members of the Sahwa militia and a soldier were among the dead, and 17 Sahwa, three soldiers, six firefighters and four ambulance attendants among the wounded.
Although violence has dropped sharply since the peak of sectarian conflict in 2006-07, Iraq is plagued by an al Qaeda-linked Sunni insurgency and Shi‘ite militias that carry out scores of bombings and other attacks each month.
The number of civilians killed in violence in Iraq rose in October to 161 from 110 in September, according to the latest government figures.
Additional reporting by Aseel Kami and Kareem Raheem in Baghdad; Writing by Jim Loney; editing by Elizabeth Piper