- Associated Press - Sunday, December 12, 2010

BAGHDAD | A suicide bomber blew up his car Sunday outside government offices in a province west of the Iraqi capital, killing 17 people, including women and elderly people waiting to collect welfare checks, officials said.

Six police officers were among the dead in the latest strike on the provincial council compound in Ramadi, capital of Anbar province — a favorite insurgent target, according to police and hospital officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.

At least 23 people also were wounded in Sunday’s blast, according to the officials.

“We rushed out of the office complex and saw many people injured and dead, lying on the street,” said Anbar Deputy Gov. Saadoun Obeid, who was at his office when the explosion touched off a fire in the compound. “I saw two women who were dead, their bodies burnt.”

Mr. Obeid said a traffic jam kept the suicide bomber from driving his explosives-laden car to the front gate. Eyewitnesses said the car exploded about 220 yards from the compound, creating a crater several yards wide.

Officials immediately blamed al Qaeda in Iraq for the attack in Anbar, a former stronghold of al Qaeda militants and Sunni insurgents that stretches just west of Baghdad to Iraq’s borders with Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

Police found a second bomb in a nearby parking lot a few minutes later, but said they detonated it in a safe area. The compound in Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, also houses the Anbar police headquarters and the governor’s office.

The chairman of the Anbar council, Jasim Mohammed al-Halbusi, put the casualty count much lower, at eight killed and 12 wounded, but said the death toll likely would rise because many of the wounded were in critical condition. Mr. Obeid said as many as 57 people were wounded.

Conflicting casualty tolls are common in the immediate aftermath of insurgent attacks in Iraq.

Mr. al-Halbusi said the dead and wounded were Anbar residents who had come to the office complex to fill out paperwork or receive government aid.

“The bombing came after a period of calm in the province,” Mr. al-Halbusi said, blaming it on “powers of hatred who killed innocent civilians.”

Another suicide bomber in Iraq’s eastern Diyala province killed a Shiite pilgrim and his son as they headed to join a parade of worshippers marking Ashoura, the most mournful annual ritual for Shiite Muslims. Diyala police spokesman Maj. Ghalib al-Karkhi said a follow-up blast wounded seven policemen and provincial councilman Muthana al-Timimi, who rushed to the site of the attack.

Government and security officials across Iraq frequently have been targeted by insurgents since shortly after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion led to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. More recently, the attacks highlight persistent efforts by insurgents to undermine Iraq’s security as U.S. troops prepare to leave by the end of next year as part of an agreement between Washington and Baghdad.

Sunday’s blast also comes the day after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, said he would not be able to announce Iraq’s new government as quickly as he’d hoped. He promised to put one together by Dec. 25 to meet a deadline required by the country’s constitution.

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