KIRKUK, Iraq – A man wearing a belt packed with explosives blew himself up outside a bank in northern Iraq Tuesday, killing 23 people and wounding nearly 100, including child street vendors and pensioners waiting for their checks. In Baghdad, the bodies of 24 men killed in ambushes were brought to a hospital.
A car bomber also rammed his vehicle into an Iraqi army checkpoint, killing five soldiers and wounding two others in Kan'an, 30 miles north of Baghdad, Iraqi army Col. Ismael Ibrahim said. Two civilians also were wounded in the attack claimed in an Internet posting by the Ansar al-Sunnah Army (search) — affiliated with Al Qaeda in Iraq (search).
The U.S. Army marked its 230th birthday Tuesday on a somber note with the killing of an American soldier in a roadside bombing targeting a U.S. convoy in southern Baghdad. The military also said two soldiers assigned to a Marine unit were killed in a similar attack Monday in the western city of Ramadi.
"Today is a day when we reflect on the heritage of the army and those who have given the ultimate sacrifice, and the latest death in Baghdad is obviously a sad event on our birthday," military spokesman Sgt. David Abrams said.
At least 1,704 U.S. military members have died since the war began in 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
The Ansar al-Sunnah Army also claimed responsibility for the attack in Kirkuk (search), which coincided with the swearing in of veteran guerrilla leader Massoud Barzani (search) as the first president of Iraq's northern Kurdistan region in the nearby city of Irbil.
Also Tuesday, the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari (search) received a near overwhelming vote of confidence Tuesday in the Iraqi National Assembly on a promise to help restore security to violence-torn Iraq.
Al-Jaafari's 37-member government, announced on April 28, was approved by a show of hands in the 275-member parliament.
Although it has made quashing the insurgency its top priority, his government has been criticized for its seeming inability to stop a wave of attacks that have killed more than 1,000 people since its inception.
Security forces captured a reported key member of Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi's (search) Al Qaeda in Iraq terrorist group who is accused of building and selling cars used by bombers, the Iraqi government said Tuesday.
He was identified as Jassim Hazan Hamadi al-Bazi, also known as Abu Ahmed, and was arrested June 7, the government said. It added that he was part of an Al Qaeda cell run by a man identified as Hussayn Ibrahim.
The spree of killings comes as lawmakers wrangle over how big a say Sunni Arab Muslims should have drawing up the country's new constitution. The dispute threatens to further alienate Sunni Arabs, who fell from power after their patron, Saddam Hussein (search), was ousted and detained. Sunni Arabs account for most of the insurgents wreaking havoc across Iraq.
In oil-rich Kirkuk, 180 miles north of Baghdad, a bomb killed 23 people, including child street vendors and retirees waiting for checks outside the Rafidiyan Bank, said police Brig. Sarhad Qadir. He said another 97 people were injured.
Police chief Gen. Sherko Shakir said the man was wearing a belt packed with explosives.
"It was the biggest awful crime in Kirkuk since the fall of Saddam's regime," Shakir said.
The explosion occurred close to a pedestrian bridge crossing the road in front of the bank. Children and other vendors selling products from sugar to kitchen utensils on both the bridge and the road underneath were among those killed.
"I came here to get my wages and I brought my grandson with me who insisted on accompanying me," said Hussein Mohammed, a 70-year old retired employee of the Northern Oil Co. (search), his head swathed in bandages. "The bomb exploded as we queued outside the bank and we were injured and rushed to hospital." The child survived.
The pavement outside the bank was strewn with rubble and glass from the building, while several bodies were seen lying underneath wreckage. At least two cars parked nearby were set ablaze.
Kirkuk is an ethnically mixed oil-rich city where insurgents have routinely launched deadly attacks apparently seeking to foment ethnic tension.
In Baghdad, the bodies of 24 men — some beheaded — were brought to a hospital, morgue official Ali Chijan said. The men had been killed in recent ambushes on convoys in western Iraq.
He said two groups of bodies were brought to Yarmouk Hospital late Monday.
Seventeen of the bodies, believed to be all Iraqis, were found near Khaldiyah, 75 miles west of Baghdad, Chijan said.
Some of the bodies had been decapitated and others had been shot in the head, said Dr. Mohammed Jawad.
Jawad said the bodies might belong to men who have been missing since their convoy delivering supplies for the U.S. military was ambushed Thursday near Khaldiyah.
Two were identified as an Iraqi policeman and an interpreter, but it was not immediately clear who they worked for.
Chijan said the badly decomposed bodies of another seven men, including one Iraqi and six believed to be "Asians," were brought to the hospital after being killed in a convoy ambush several days ago. Most had been shot in the face.
The slain Iraqi was identified as Ahmed Adnan, said his cousin, Hussein Ali.
Ali told the AP his cousin worked for the U.S.-owned American-Iraqi Solutions Group (search), a large company dealing in Iraqi reconstruction projects, with its headquarters in Carson City, Nev.
The company later sent the AP a statement saying 11 of its employees were killed Sunday when one of its five-vehicle supply convoys was ambushed east of Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, by up to 20 heavily armed bandits firing from an overpass.
"The attackers used light and heavy machine-guns as well as rocket propelled grenades to disable three of the five vehicles," the statement said.
The last two vehicles in the convoy escaped the attack, which the company said was "believed to be the work of bandits operating in the Anbar region and is not thought to be a terrorist operation."
The highway linking Baghdad to Jordan in the west cuts through volatile Anbar province (search), a region notorious for kidnappings, ambushes and bombings.
In announcing the arrest of al-Bazi, the government said he built and sold remote-controlled bombs used in roadside attacks from an electronic repair shop in Balad, 50 miles north of Baghdad.
He sold the bombs for about $18,000 each "and was involved in building suicide vehicle" bombs and land mines that were used in Balad and Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, the statement said.
Al Qaeda in Iraq and other extremist Islamic groups have been blamed for many car bombings, beheadings and attacks.