BAQUBA, IraqÂ – Iraqi authorities imposed a curfew on the capital of restive Diyala province on Tuesday after the governor survived a suicide attack that left the bomber’s body parts scattered across the street.
Two people were killed and seven wounded when the attacker detonated an explosive vest near the convoy of Diyala Governor Raad Rasheed in the provincial capital Baquba, 65 km (40 miles) northeast of Baghdad, police said. Rasheed was unharmed.
The explosion, near the provincial government headquarters, scattered the bomber’s body parts across the street, while a man lay lifeless by the roadside. A Reuters photographer was 100 meters away when the blast went off and witnessed the scene.
The U.S. military said just one civilian was killed in the attack apart from the bomber, a man disguised as a woman.
Diyala has been the scene of a two-week-old crackdown by U.S.-backed Iraqi forces against Sunni Arab al Qaeda and other militants, who frequently employ suicide bombing as a tactic.
As violence in Iraq has dropped to levels not seen since 2004, the ethnically and religiously mixed province is considered one of the last remaining sanctuaries for al Qaeda.
Many recent attacks in Diyala have been by female suicide bombers, a tactic used increasingly by al Qaeda this year to evade security searches.
Iraqiya state television said the curfew in the city centre would run from noon (0900 GMT) until Wednesday morning.
An American bomb-disposal robot probed the area after the attack, while Iraqi and U.S. soldiers tended to wounded Iraqis before they were taken to a hospital.
“I condemn this terrorist attack that targeted us. And this is not the first attempt,” Rasheed told Reuters. “It is not going to sway us from continuing our course of imposing security through operation ‘Good Omen’.”
The U.S. military reported that Lieutenant-General Ali Gheidan Majid al-Otbi, Iraq’s national land forces commander, was also in the convoy.
FIGHTERS FLEEING CITIES
Iraqi forces, backed by U.S. soldiers and helicopters, launched the crackdown last month in Diyala, searching homes, confiscating weapons and detaining scores of people. At least 370 people have been arrested so far, police say.
The Iraqi government said on Monday it was calling a pause in the operation for a few days to allow militants to surrender.
But Major-General Mark Hertling, who commands U.S. forces across northern Iraq, said U.S. soldiers would press on.
Hertling told a press briefing on Monday that crackdowns in Diyala over the last year had pushed many militants, whom he described as primarily “home-grown” fighters or “gang members” rather than foreign insurgents, into the countryside.
“We must capture or kill the hardcore terrorists that are residing now out in the hinterlands,” he said.
Hafith Abdul-Aziz, the province’s deputy governor for administrative affairs, said the curfew also came on the heels of the sacking of Diyala’s regional police chief by the provincial council on Monday.
Major-General Abdul-Kareem Khalaf, who had been the Interior Ministry’s spokesman, said on Tuesday that he had been named acting police chief for Diyala.
Washington is pressuring the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to match recent security improvements with progress in reconciling rival political factions.
Yet U.S. ambitions for political progress in Iraq faced a setback last week when parliament adjourned for its summer break without passing a law that would have allowed officials to move towards holding provincial elections scheduled for October 1.
The elections are seen as an important step in healing Iraq’s sectarian divides, especially with the country’s Sunni Arab minority, more than five years after the U.S.-led invasion. But the election law has been held up by wrangling with another minority, the Kurds, over power in the disputed city of Kirkuk