BAGHDAD — Bombers unleashed a wave of explosions in Baghdad and north of the capital Monday, including two attacks that killed eight U.S. service members in the deadliest day for the military this year, American and Iraqi authorities said.
The other blasts targeted Iraqi security forces, militias and civilians, hitting a police station, a hotel, a busy traffic intersection and near a mosque and a hospital.
The combined death toll of at least 22 included 14 Iraqi casualties, on the heels of twin bombings that killed nearly 70 people last Thursday in a Baghdad shopping district, indicated that Sunni Muslim insurgents are reasserting their presence at a time when large-scale attacks had dipped to record lows, Iraqi officials said.
Authorities couldn't say for certain whether any of Monday's bombings were coordinated.
Two of the explosions occurred in militia-controlled Shiite Muslim districts, signaling that bombers still can strike in the heart of Mahdi Army territory. Another blast ripped through the front gate of a hotel in the northern city of Sulaimaniyah in the autonomous Kurdish region, which had been among the safest places in Iraq.
"The terrorists want to send a message to the Kurdistan region and to all those concerned that they can make big security breaches at any time, in any place they want," said Suzan Shihab, a Kurdish member of parliament who represents Sulaimaniyah.
In the worst attack on U.S. forces in Baghdad in nearly a year, five American service members died after a suicide bomber approached their foot patrol and detonated an explosives vest in the once-upscale central Baghdad neighborhood of Mansour, according to the U.S. command in Baghdad.
Four soldiers were killed at the scene and another later died from his wounds, the military said in a statement. Three more American soldiers and an Iraqi interpreter were wounded.
"These soldiers were walking in the neighborhood conducting a presence patrol. They were among the Iraqi people we have sworn to protect, where they live, work and gather," said Lt. Col. Steve Stover, a spokesman for the U.S. military in Baghdad.
Three other American soldiers and an interpreter were killed Monday by a homemade bomb — what the military calls an improvised explosive device — in the town of Balad Ruz in the Diyala province northwest of Baghdad.
Another brazen attack in Diyala killed Sheik Thaeir Ghadhban al Karkhi, a tribal leader from the province who belonged to one of the controversial U.S.-sponsored Sunni militias that have pledged to fight al Qaida in Iraq.
Police and relatives of the victim said a young woman had come to the sheik's home in the city of Kanaan late Sunday night pleading for his assistance to free her kidnapped husband. She was granted an appointment Monday morning and wasn't searched when she entered the home for the second time, said Duraid Mahmoud Ghadhban, the slain tribal leader's nephew, who worked as a bodyguard and was present during the attack.
The woman approached al Karkhi and detonated her explosives vest, instantly killing the sheik along with his 5-year-old niece and two bodyguards, Ghadhban said. Police officials in Diyala confirmed his account.
"I saw her when she came today but I was about to move to go somewhere else. Less than a minute later, I heard the explosion and I came back quickly and saw my uncle's body. I couldn't believe it," Ghadhban said. "I cried, and was asking myself what the reason was, why this woman killed my uncle when he only wanted to help her."
Al Qaida in Iraq has vowed to retaliate against Sunnis who join the American military's campaign to drive militants out of volatile areas. The program has succeeded in reducing the violence in the western Anbar province and Sunni neighborhoods in Baghdad, though critics accuse U.S. forces of arming and paying off former insurgents and many Iraqis remain skeptical about the long-term viability of the arrangement.
Another suicide bomber blew himself up at a police station in the same province Monday, killing two people and injuring 20 in the city of Muqdadiyah.
In the attack in Kurdistan, a bomber rammed an explosives-laden car into the gate of Sulaimaniyah Palace Hotel, triggering a powerful blast that could be felt throughout the city, witnesses said. Kurdish authorities confirmed at least one dead and 26 people injured. Several cars were set ablaze and the hotel sustained structural damage, witnesses said. It was the first major bombing in Sulaimaniyah in more than two years.
"What happened was like Judgment Day because Sulaimaniyah never has such incidents," said Aso Raheem, 31, who owns a shop near the hotel. "After the explosion, the sounds of ambulances and police sirens filled the place. Fear and terror filled the hearts of the residents across the city because we are not used to such attacks."
The other three explosions went off in Baghdad areas that are strongholds for the Mahdi Army, the militia commanded by the rebel Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr. A bomb in a parked car detonated on the outskirts of the Sadr City neighborhood, where the militia is headquartered, killing one person and injuring four near a hospital, police said.
Another bomb hidden in a parked car exploded near a mosque in the Shaab district, killing one civilian and wounding four, police said. Also in Shaab, a roadside bomb at a busy traffic intersection wounded two Iraqis.
(McClatchy special correspondent Taha reported from Kurdistan. Nancy A. Youssef in Washington and special correspondents Mohammed al Dulaimy and Laith Hammoudi contributed to this article from Baghdad. An Iraqi special correspondent who isn't named for security reasons contributed from Diyala province.)