BAGHDAD – Militants killed seven people in a series of attacks Tuesday in Iraq's eastern Diyala province, and a local official said government crackdowns against Sunni extremists elsewhere in the country were driving them back to the area.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has launched operations against Shiite and Sunni militants in Baghdad and the northern city of Mosul in recent months.
He recently singled out Diyala province as a possible next target, a move called for by the head of Diyala's provincial capital, Ibrahim Bajilan.
"The Iraqi government must start a military campaign to enforce law in Diyala and its outskirts," Bajilan told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
Last year, U.S. troops regained control of Diyala's capital of Baqouba, which had been held by Al Qaeda in Iraq and other Sunni militants.
But the extremists appear to be regrouping, targeting a network of U.S.-backed Sunni fighters — known as awakening councils — organized by the Americans to fight Al Qaeda.
Bajilan said militants escaping government crackdowns in Baghdad and Mosul were arriving in Diyala and making their presence felt.
"They have spread their control in the villages in those towns, and the emergence of female suicide bombers in Diyala recently proves that," said Bajilan.
A female suicide bomber struck outside a government complex a week ago in Baqouba, killing at least 15 people and wounding more than 40, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials. Awakening council members foiled another female suicide bomber when they shot her Sunday as she was approaching their headquarters outside Baqouba.
Violence across Iraq increased slightly in June from the month before, with 546 Iraqis killed or found dead from war-related violence, according to AP figures. This was slightly higher than May, when 515 Iraqis were killed or found dead.
Militants killed three family members and wounded a fourth Tuesday with a bomb in Buhrez, four miles south of Baqouba, said a Diyala police report. Three mortar shells landed in the same area, killing one civilian and injuring a second, it added.
Extremists also used a suicide car bomb to target a police checkpoint in Mandali, 30 miles east of Baqouba, killing three policemen and wounding a fourth, said the police report.
The violence continued in Abbara, 10 miles south of Baqouba, where militants struck an awakening council with a roadside bomb as the group was mourning the loss of a fellow member. The blast wounded eight people, including a policemen, said the police report.
Elsewhere in Iraq, a car bomb targeting a U.S. convoy in western Baghdad missed its target, wounding five civilians and causing extensive damage to nearby shops, said a local police officer, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
The U.S. military said Tuesday that it had detained two suspected Al Qaeda in Iraq terrorists the day before in Baghdad and Mosul.
Also Tuesday, the U.N. envoy to Iraq Staffan de Mistura said it was unlikely that the country would be able to hold provincial elections by the beginning of October as planned because lawmakers had failed to approve a new election law.
But he said after meeting with members of parliament that elections could be held by the end of the year if they finalize the law this month.