BAGHDAD (Reuters) – A suicide bomber killed at least 13 people in an attack aimed at a senior Iraqi police officer in Baghdad on Wednesday and gunmen shot dead three U.S. soldiers in northern Iraq, officials said.
The U.S. military said separately that at least 10 decaying bodies had been found in a sewer shaft in east Baghdad, apparently victims of sectarian violence about two years ago.
U.S. and Iraqi officials have been highlighting an improvement in security in Iraq that has led to sharp drops in violence and in attacks on U.S. soldiers five years after the U.S.-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein.
But U.S. commanders have said that security improvements are fragile and reversible.
The suicide bomber drove a truck towards the house of police Brigadier-General Nadhim Taeih, in northern Baghdad, killing at least 13 people and wounding 52, police said.
The blast in the predominantly Shi’ite district of Shaab destroyed Taeih’s house, but he was not at home at the time, police sources said.
Taeih’s nephew was killed and his father was seriously wounded, the sources said. They said eight houses were destroyed by the blast.
A truck axle lay among the rubble of leveled houses on the streets as Iraqi soldiers searched among the debris for bodies. A small fire burned as excavators cleared rubble.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has improved his standing by cracking down on Shi’ite militias in Basra in the south and Baghdad and Sunni Arab insurgents in al Qaeda in the north.
ON THE RUN
U.S. and Iraqi military officials say al Qaeda is on the run in Iraq but remains a threat.
An old woman wounded in the Baghdad blast told Reuters Television the explosion was “catastrophic”.
“I don’t know what we did to deserve this. Is it a punishment from God?” she asked, at Baghdad’s al Kindi hospital.
Tabarak Haider, aged about nine, was being treated at the hospital for a stomach wound. She said a truck filled with cartons passed “and when it reached the corner it blew up.”
The three American soldiers were killed by small-arms fire in the Sunni Arab town of Hawija, 210 km (130 miles) north of Baghdad, the U.S. military said. It gave no further details.
In May, the number of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq fell to 19, the lowest monthly death toll in a five-year-old war that has claimed the lives of more than 4,000 American soldiers.
A roadside bomb struck an army and police convoy, killing two policemen and wounding four others just north of Falluja, 50 km (32 miles) west of Baghdad, said a police official.
U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Steve Stover said Iraqi police and U.S. soldiers, acting on a tip, found the decaying bodies of between 10 and 12 people in a sewer shaft in the New Baghdad area of the capital on Tuesday.
The bodies, believed to have been in the shaft for about two years, are likely to be victims of sectarian violence, he said.
Violence in Iraq has fallen to its lowest level in more than four years, according to recent figures from the U.S. military.
U.S. President George W. Bush sent 30,000 extra troops to Iraq last year to halt a slide toward sectarian civil war.
Sen. Barack Obama, who declared victory on Tuesday in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, has pledged to withdraw U.S. troops within 16 months of taking office. Republican rival Sen. John McCain says Democrats’ promises to withdraw the 155,000 U.S. soldiers quickly are reckless.