BAGHDAD – The policemen had assembled for the morning roll call when the bicyclist pedaled into view.
He was wearing sweat pants and a black T-shirt, witnesses recalled, and some people knew enough to start running as he glided toward them.
“Suicide bomber! Suicide bomber!” people at the police headquarters shouted as the blast thundered across Baqouba, an embattled provincial capital north of Baghdad.
The explosion Monday killed at least 28 policemen and wounded 17 policemen and three Iraqi civilians, according to the U.S. military, making it the deadliest insurgent attack in Iraq in more than a month. The last mass-casualty attack struck Baqouba in late September, targeting a reconciliation meeting and killing at least 25 people.
Many of those targeted in the bombing were recent police recruits. Across Iraq, the U.S. military has urged Iraqis, especially Sunnis, to join the police force in an effort to pull people away from the insurgency and to balance out what are predominantly Shiite-run security forces.
Such attacks can have a chilling effect on efforts to bolster the police force.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for tribal leaders in Diyala province said all but one of 11 sheiks kidnapped in eastern Baghdad on Sunday had been freed.
The spokesman for the mostly Shiite al-Salam Support Council, Hadi al-Anbaki, said a joint U.S. and Iraqi military operation on Monday had discovered the tribal leaders in the Shaab district of northeast Baghdad.
One of the men kidnapped, Haroon al-Muhammadawi, an imam in the al-Salam area of Diyala province, had been found dead the day before, Anbaki said.
The U.S. military accused Arkan Hasnawi, a former commander with the Mahdi Army militia, of being responsible for the kidnappings but has not provided evidence for that claim.