BAGHDAD – The Iraqi government said Monday it has halted military operations in Diyala province for a week to give insurgents time to surrender, even as deadly bombings struck the area northeast of Baghdad.
In the most dramatic attack, a female suicide bomber struck a market checkpoint in the provincial capital of Baqouba, killing at least one policeman and wounding 14 other people, including nine officers, officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to media.
The woman detonated explosives hidden under her all-encompassing traditional Islamic black robe as she approached the checkpoint manned by Iraqi police at the central market, witnesses said.
The blast sent black smoke billowing into the sky. Iraqi security forces began shooting into the air to clear the area while shoppers and shop owners began shouting and running from the site.
Another bomb exploded in the Wijaihiyah area, about 12 miles east of Baqouba, killing two women and wounding four people, including a child, according to the Diyala security operations center.
Sporadic attacks have continued in Diyala — including several carried out by women — despite a new U.S.-Iraqi military operation launched last month in the latest government crackdown against suspected insurgent hideouts in the area.
The Iraqi Defense Ministry said Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has ordered the Diyala military operations to be suspended for a week starting Monday "to give gunmen a chance to surrender."
The prime minister's office has announced an amnesty offer and unspecified monetary rewards for those who hand over "heavy and medium weapons, roadside bombs, rifles or any other kind of explosives," according to a statement.
Al-Maliki has made amnesty offers during similar operations against Sunni and Shiite extremists in Baghdad's Sadr City district, Mosul and the southern cities of Basra and Amarah, but they have had limited effect.
Violence also struck the capital Monday.
A bomb stuck under a car exploded in eastern Baghdad, killing the driver and wounding two other people, police said.
The U.S. military, meanwhile, confirmed that the suicide bomber who killed a U.S. soldier and at least four Iraqis on Sunday in a complex attack north of the capital also was a woman.
An Iraqi police official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of security concerns, said 23 Iraqis were killed, including six members of a U.S.-allied Sunni group, three Iraqi security forces and 14 civilians. The conflicting casualty tolls couldn't be reconciled.
The female suicide bomber struck as U.S. and Iraqi troops were responding to a roadside bombing that wounded an Iraqi in Tarmiyah, 30 miles north of Baghdad, the U.S. military said.
Lt. Col. Steve Stover, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Baghdad, said a wanted al-Qaida in Iraq militant was arrested near the scene.
The U.S. military has warned that Sunni insurgents are increasingly recruiting and using women to carry out bombings because they are more easily able to hide explosives under their robes and avoid being searched at checkpoints.
In response, the U.S. has stepped up efforts to recruit and train women for Iraq's police force and enlist them to join Sunnis fighting al-Qaida.
U.S. military figures show some 30 female suicide bombings this year, compared with eight in 2007.