BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Two suicide bombers killed 23 people and wounded 68 at a recruitment centre for the Iraqi army north of Baghdad on Tuesday, an Iraqi security source said, just days after the government promised a crackdown in the area.
The security source said most of those killed were recruits.
The U.S. military said 16 recruits were killed and 30 wounded when the bombers blew themselves up in a queue outside a security base in Baquba, 65 km (40 miles) northeast of Baghdad.
The attack follows a string of bombings in recent months in Diyala province, of which Baquba is the capital.
Sunni Islamist al Qaeda has sought to stoke tensions in religiously and ethnically mixed Diyala. It has frequently targeted policemen and police recruits.
Iraqi security forces are poised to launch a major crackdown in Diyala, the Interior Ministry said on Sunday, the latest military operation aimed at stabilizing the country.
“What’s happening here is the enemy knows the government and security forces are getting stronger,” said Major Peggy Kageleiry, a spokeswoman for the U.S. military in northern Iraq.
The Interior Ministry has not given a date for the start of the Diyala crackdown.
U.S. forces have been conducting security operations in Diyala since the beginning of the year and would take part in the new Iraqi push, the military has said.
Al Qaeda has sought to regroup in Iraq’s north after sustained military campaigns pushed the militants out of their former strongholds in Iraq’s western Anbar province and Baghdad.
The Diyala crackdown will be the latest Iraqi-led offensive aimed at stamping government authority on areas once in the hands of Sunni Arab insurgents or Shi’ite militias.
U.S. and Iraqi officials say a campaign against al Qaeda in the northern city of Mosul and surrounding Nineveh province has helped reduce violence there. Other operations have targeted Shi’ite militias in the southern provinces of Basra and Maysan.
Overall attacks across Iraq were down 85 percent in June from a year ago, the Iraqi military said last week.