BAGHDAD – A suicide bomber ripped through a line of anti-al-Qaida Sunni fighters waiting to collect their paychecks near an Iraqi military base, the worst of two attacks that killed nearly 50 people west of Baghdad.
The attack is the deadliest this year against the groups that turned against the terror network amid an apparent campaign by insurgents to undermine confidence in the government security forces and their allies.
The attacks on the Awakening Council members highlighted the daunting security challenges the country faces as the U.S. works to withdraw all combat troops in Iraq.
The first attack Sunday morning, by a single bomber with an explosive vest, killed at least 45 people and wounded more than 40 at a checkpoint near a military base in the mostly Sunni district of Radwaniya, southwest of Baghdad.
Some 150 Sunni fighters had lined up to collect their paychecks when the bomber struck, according to witnesses.
There were conflicting reports as to how many of the dead were Iraqi soldiers and whether accountants who were killed as they were handing out money were civilian or military.
In the second attack, a suspected militant stormed into a local Awakening Council headquarters in the far western town of Qaim near the Syrian border and opened fire on those inside.
The town and the vast desert province of Anbar were for years the epicenter of the Sunni Arab insurgency and a sanctuary for al-Qaida.
The fighters returned fire, wounding the attacker, who then blew himself up as they gathered around him, killing three and wounding six others, police officials said.
Two other members of the Sunni militia were also wounded in other minor attacks south of Baghdad.
While violence has dropped dramatically over the past two years in the country, Iraqi security forces remain a favorite target for insurgents bent on destabilizing the country and its Shiite-led government.
The attack also raised to the surface the festering resentment on the part of some Awakening Council members toward a government they said has largely marginalized them, even though their decision to fight alongside the Americans has made them targets for Sunni extremists.
The complaints take on greater urgency given Iraq’s current political stalemate and the scheduled withdrawal of all U.S. combat forces by the end of August.
More than four months after March’s inconclusive parliamentary election, Iraq has yet to form a new government as politicians bicker over who will lead the country. The impasse has raised fears that militants will try to exploit the political vacuum to re-ignite sectarian tensions that brought Iraq to the brink of civil war in 2006 and 2007.