BAGHDAD – Two suicide bombers struck in a Sunni Arab district of Baghdad on Monday, killing at least 14 people including the leader of a U.S.-backed neighborhood security patrol, police said.
The strikes were the latest in an apparent stepped-up campaign of suicide bombings that has seen major attacks nearly every day for the past two weeks, even as overall levels of violence in Iraq have fallen.
The U.S. military blamed al Qaeda and said the attacks provided “perhaps the clearest proof of the nature of this enemy that will destroy the very people and neighborhoods of whom it claims to protect”.
After nightfall, gunmen in five cars kidnapped between eight and 10 neighborhood patrol volunteers in the northern Shaab district of Baghdad, police said. The volunteers had been manning a vehicle checkpoint.
Earlier, chanting mourners carried the bodies of Colonel Riyadh al-Samarrai and some of his slain bodyguards through the streets of the mainly Sunni Arab Adhamiya neighborhood, where the colonel led volunteer patrols in the pay of U.S. forces.
“The martyrdom of the colonel is an inspiration to us now. All of us will become Colonel Riyadhs,” said Abu Firas, another senior member of the “awakening” movement in the area, the Iraqi name for Sunni Arab tribes that have turned against al Qaeda.
Three separate police and security sources confirmed the death toll and said about 20 people were wounded. Baghdad security spokesman Brigadier-General Qassim Moussawi told Iraqiya state television six people were killed and 26 wounded.
One of the bombers detonated an explosive vest, the other struck with a car bomb.
Samarrai was also in charge of security at the Adhamiya headquarters of the Sunni Endowment, an institution that runs Sunni mosques and religious offices in Iraq.
The Endowment said the attack was part of “a conspiracy against this country, the blood of which continues to flow”.
Other blasts in Baghdad killed five people, including a bomb hidden in a market cart that killed four in the central Karrada district and a pair of roadside bombs that killed a civilian and wounded two policemen in southern Jadiriya district.
Police said they found five bodies of men handcuffed, blindfolded and shot in the head in volatile Diyala province, and gunmen killed a member of a neighborhood patrol working as a carpenter inside his shop in Samarra.
The neighborhood volunteers have been increasingly targeted in recent weeks by al Qaeda Sunni Arab militants, who have been driven out of most of the territory they once controlled in Iraq but have continued to launch suicide bombings.
Before the new year al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who is not thought to have direct control over the Iraqi militants that use his organization’s name, vowed to strike the volunteers, who are funded by U.S. forces.
U.S. commanders say attacks on the volunteers are a sign that al Qaeda fears the program, which has sprouted in Sunni Arab areas where al Qaeda militants ruled the streets until local tribes turned on them in 2006 and 2007.
Adhamiya was one of the militants’ main strongholds in Baghdad and one of the deadliest areas for U.S. forces in the capital until mid-2007. It is now a quiet area where shops have reopened and refugees have begun returning.
Although overall levels of violence fell sharply throughout the second half of 2007, U.S. commanders say the Sunni Arab militants remain determined to launch “spectacular” attacks using suicide bombers to kill large numbers of people.