BAGHDAD, Iraq – A suicide bomber edged his way into a crowd of Iraqi officials and U.S. forces gathered for a meeting north of Baghdad on Thursday, killing as many as 12 people, including an American soldier.
It was one of three attacks nationwide that shattered what had been the peaceful start of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, which began Wednesday for Sunni Muslims. Shiites begin celebrating the four-day holiday today. The violence included the bombing of a row of liquor stores in central Baghdad that police said killed three Iraqis.
The violence underscored what a U.S. official called the “great security threats” still looming in Iraq, illustrated by two recent discoveries. In Diyala province, north of Baghdad, Iraqi civilians tipped off U.S. forces to a torture chamber, complete with chains on the walls and ceilings and a bed on which victims apparently were chained and submitted to electrical shocks.
And south of Baghdad, the U.S. military said it found an elaborate system of tunnels dug by insurgents along the Euphrates River. The militants apparently used the tunnels as hiding places and as positions from which to fire on U.S. forces. Soldiers from the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division, which made the find, used two bombs to destroy the tunnel system.
The discoveries occurred in areas still plagued by Sunni Muslim insurgent activity blamed on the group al-Qaida in Iraq. Troops came across the tunnel network Sunday during a search that also uncovered a cache of bomb-making equipment in Iskandariya, 25 miles south of Baghdad. The torture center was discovered in Muqdadiya, 60 miles northeast of Baghdad, after a tip from local Iraqis. The remains of 26 people also were discovered at the compound, which was uncovered during a series of operations in the area this month.
A military statement said 24 insurgents were killed during the three-day operation.
“There are still great threats out there,” said a U.S. Embassy official, who asked not to be identified. “Each attack illustrates that.”
The bloodiest attack Thursday occurred in Kanan, about 12 miles east of the Diyala provincial capital of Baqouba. The U.S. military said a bomber wearing an explosive vest approached a building in which a local council meeting was about to take place. Several U.S. soldiers were standing outside the building, according to a military statement.
It said one American soldier and at least five Iraqi civilians were killed, and that 10 U.S. troops and an Iraqi military translator were injured. An unidentified Diyala police official put the death toll at 12. He said initial reports indicated the dead included a “prominent leader” of the so-called Awakening council of local sheiks, who have joined forces to work with U.S. and Iraqi troops against insurgents.
It is not unusual for U.S. and Iraqi officials to have different casualty numbers, and there was no way to determine which was correct.
Also in Diyala, police said gunmen opened fire on a patrol of Iraqi police and volunteer security guards working alongside U.S. and Iraqi forces. The police official said one policeman and two security volunteers were killed.
Such security guards, who are often referred to as Concerned Local Citizens, number in the tens of thousands and are paid about $10 a day by U.S. forces to bolster the anti-insurgency effort. They frequently are targeted by insurgents.
In Baghdad, police said three people died when a car bomb exploded on a shopping street outside a row of liquor stores.
After the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, liquor stores came under attack from religious extremists, and most closed. In recent months, a decline in violence has prompted some liquor stores to reopen.