January 22, 2008 in Nation/World

Bomber kills 18 at funeral

Hamza Hendawi Associated Press

BAGHDAD – A suicide bomber apparently targeting a senior security official blew himself up inside a funeral tent Monday, killing 18 people in the latest of a series of deadly attacks chipping away at the notion of a calmer Iraq.

The U.S. military has repeatedly warned that the fight against insurgents is not over, and the bombing in a village north of Baghdad was the third in as many days in Sunni Arab areas thought to have been largely rid of al-Qaida militants.

There was no claim of responsibility for Monday’s bombing in Hajaj, a village about midway along the nearly 20 miles between Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit and the oil hub of Beiji, 155 miles north of Baghdad. But police said it bore the hallmarks of al-Qaida.

Witnesses said about 70 people were inside the tent when the attacker set off his explosives soon after entering.

Officials said the target appeared to be Ahmed Abdullah, deputy governor in charge of security for Salahuddin province, of which Tikrit is the capital. He escaped unharmed.

Abdullah was a relative of the man being honored at the funeral, Antar Mohammed Abed, a former bodyguard of Saddam’s wife, Sajida Khairallah Tulfah, who became a farmer after returning to Hajaj following the ouster of the late dictator’s regime five years ago.

Abed’s son and a grandson were among the 18 killed, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

As a relative, Abdullah should have been sitting close to the son and grandson, since family members take the seats closest to the entrance on such occasions to be the first to receive visitors.

The attack came one day after a teenage suicide bomber targeted U.S.-backed, anti-al-Qaida fighters near the former insurgent stronghold of Fallujah in Anbar province west of Baghdad. Six people were killed by that blast.

On Saturday, three suicide bombers attacked a police station in Ramadi, Anbar’s provincial capital. Guards killed one attacker, but the other two detonated their explosives at the entrance, killing at least five officers.

Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, a U.S. military spokesman, told reporters Sunday that al-Qaida had been on the run after Sunni insurgents and clansmen joined with American troops in combatting the terrorist group.

U.S. commanders credit anti-al-Qaida fighters from Sunni groups, a six-month cease-fire by a Shiite militia and the dispatch of 30,000 additional U.S. soldiers last year for a nationwide reduction in violence in recent months.

But there has been an uptick in high-profile bombings in recent weeks, suggesting al-Qaida remains a potent threat despite the security gains.

The U.S. military announced that a Marine was killed Saturday during fighting in Anbar, the first American combat death in that province since Oct. 8. Also on Saturday, a roadside bomb killed a U.S. soldier in the rural al-Qaida in Iraq stronghold of Arab Jabour south of Baghdad, the military said.

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