|Shoes and caps (right) of those killed and injured in a suicide attack yesterday; nearby, Iraqi soldiers inspected the site. Above, an injured Iraqi was brought into a Baghdad hospital. (Khalil Al-Murshidi/AFP/Getty Images)|
48 killed in Iraq suicide bombings; Sunnis targeted
Most victims were guards awaiting pay
MAHMOUDIYAH, Iraq — Two suicide bombings yesterday targeting members of local guard forces left at least 48 people dead and heightened concern about the future of the groups as the number of US troops in the country is reduced.
The deadliest attack occurred at approximately 7 a.m. outside an army base in Radwaniya, a district southwest of Baghdad, where dozens of members of the Sunni groups known as awakening councils were lined up waiting to collect their monthly salaries, officials said. That bombing killed at least 45 people and wounded nearly 50.
Shortly afterward, a militant stormed into a meeting of awakening council leaders in al-Qaim, a town near the Syrian border, and detonated explosives, killing at least three people, Iraqi security officials said.
A third explosion in a village near Radwaniya targeting a house that Iraqi soldiers were using as a temporary base killed two officers and three soldiers, police said.
The attack in Radwaniya, the deadliest in Iraq since the spring, incensed members of the armed groups. Leaders say the groups, once backed and financed by the US military, are withering because of continuing insurgent attacks and the slow pace at which the government is moving them into civilian ministries.
“The Iraqi government is responsible,’’ Khadum Feiad Mezel, 63, said outside the Mahmoudiyah hospital, where most of the wounded were transported, as he awaited news about a nephew who was at the site. “There is no other side we blame.’’
American officials have sought with mixed results to get the Iraqi government to care for the members of the awakening councils, which were instrumental in turning the tide on a worsening war during the 2007 US troop surge.
Yesterday’s attacks marked one of the deadliest days in Iraq this year, underscoring fears that insurgents are exploiting a period of political impasse. Iraqi lawmakers have bickered since the March 7 parliamentary election over who will form the next government and many worry the stalemate could drag on for months.
Vice President Joe Biden said yesterday that the political dispute will not affect US plans to draw down to 50,000 troops by the end of August. “There is a government in place that is working,’’ Biden said in an interview on ABC’s “This Week.’’ “Iraqi security is being provided by the Iraqis, with our assistance.’’
At the Mahmoudiyah hospital yesterday afternoon, electricity from generators was insufficient to power most wings, forcing doctors and nurses to work in sweltering rooms, using flashlights to study charts.
The US military established the armed Sunni groups in 2006 and 2007 in an effort to wean the Sunni insurgency of recruits and local support. The groups, which included thousands of former insurgents, turned on Al Qaeda in Iraq, an insurgent group that had come to control large parts of western Iraq and predominantly Sunni areas of Baghdad and surrounding villages.
Al Qaeda in Iraq has killed scores of awakening council members because they see them as traitors for siding with American forces.
In 2008, the US military stopped paying Sons of Iraq after Iraqi officials agreed to give them salaries and gradually put guards into civilian ministry jobs.
The government has not made good on its promise to move at least 20 percent to police and army jobs. Among those who have been put into civilian ministries, former fighters complain they are often paid late — if at all.
“I haven’t been paid in four months,’’ said Ayed Mohammed Bahar, 38, a former awakening council member in Radwaniya who was offered a job at the Health Ministry in Baghdad. “Right now we are consumed by worry. We are relying on these salaries. We have nothing else but these jobs.’’
While violence has dropped dramatically across Iraq over the past two years, security forces remain a favorite target for insurgents trying to destabilize the country and its Shi’ite-led government.
Also yesterday, the former Iraqi foreign minister, Tariq Aziz, and several other members of Saddam Hussein’s regime appeared in court just days after their handover from the United States to Iraqi custody, an Iraqi official said.
Deputy Justice Minister Busho Ibrahim said Aziz, 74, and the other members of the deposed regime were summoned to appear before the court dealing with crimes from the Hussein era.
The court charged Aziz with squandering the public wealth and he will face a new trial, his lawyer said.
Aziz, who was the international face of Hussein’s regime for several years, has twice before been convicted by the Iraqi High Tribunal and has received prison sentences of 15 years and 7 years in prison.
Material from the Associated Press was included in this report.