A funeral for two anti-al-Qaida Sunni tribesman in a town north of Baghdad was the target of a suicide bombing Thursday that killed at least 50 people and wounded many more, according to local police.
The violence follows several other attacks that have ended a period of relative calm in the Sunni areas north of Baghdad — a calm that was attributed to the surge of U.S. troops and the growth of Sunni “Awakening Councils” organized to combat al-Qaida-linked insurgents.
Thursday’s funeral was for two Awakening Council members who were killed earlier in the day. The bomber was a middle-aged man who walked into a tent crowded with mourners and detonated the explosives strapped to his body, police said.
The head of the Awakening Council in the town of Albu Mohammed, Sheik Omar al-Azawi, was just arriving when the bomb went off.
“I first heard a thunderous explosion and when I turned my eyes to the tent I saw fire and smoke coming out,” al-Azawi told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
“Panicked people were jumping and running in all sides and then we started to evacuate those who were killed and wounded in our private cars until police and medical teams arrived,” he said.
The U.S. military, while touting the success of the surge, said earlier that renewed violence was to be expected.
“We have said all along that there will be variants in which we will see al-Qaida and other groups seek to reassert themselves,” U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. Kevin Bergner said Wednesday.
Meanwhile, U.S. and Iraqi forces have stepped up pressure on Shiite militias, particularly cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. An unmanned drone killed two gunmen in Baghdad’s Sadr City district, a hub of the Mahdi Army, on Thursday, U.S. military officials announced.
And there was some progress on the political front Thursday. The main Sunni Muslim political bloc agreed in principle to return to al-Maliki’s Shiite-led government, the AP reported. President Bush has criticized al-Maliki for not being able to bridge religious, ethnic and regional divides within his own Cabinet.