BAGHDAD – A homicide attacker drove an explosives-packed car into a line of vehicles at a checkpoint in western Iraq on Monday, killing eight people and wounding 16, police and hospital officials said.
The car exploded as it approached a checkpoint near the provincial capital of Ramadi, setting half a dozen other vehicles ablaze. The dead included three policemen and five civilians, a police officer said.
An official at Ramadi General Hospital confirmed the death toll. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not permitted to release information to journalists.
A farmer riding in a pickup truck not far behind the attacker's car ran toward the scene, where he described seeing a child who had been blown by the blast onto the roof of a car.
"I tried to approach him to see whether he was alive or dead, but the police started to open fire in all directions and we had to run away," he said. Iraqi police frequently fire into the air at bombing sites to disperse the crowd and scare away other potential attackers.
Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, is a former insurgent stronghold that has been relatively calm since Sunni tribal leaders revolted against Al Qaeda in Iraq more than two years ago. Recent attacks in the area, however, have raised concerns about a resurgence of violence before national elections scheduled for January.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has sought to reassure Iraqis that the U.S.-trained security forces are capable of taking over from American troops who have withdrawn from the country's cities.
Recent bombings, especially an Aug. 19 attack on government ministries in Baghdad that killed about 100 people, have shaken people's confidence at a crucial time, just months before the voting.
Iraq's rampant corruption has also become a key election issue. Corruption watchdog Transparency International rated Iraq in 2008 as the third most corrupt country in the world after Somalia and Myanmar. The Iraqi government had long played down the issue before announcing a crackdown this year.
A judge said Monday that it issued two new arrest warrants. A senior Finance Ministry official in charge of the auditing department is accused of wasting public funds, judge Arif Shahin said.
Authorities are also seeking Iraq's ambassador to Jordan. He is accused of sheltering a fellow Saddam Hussein-era diplomat who is wanted in the 1994 assassination of an Iraqi dissident in Beirut, said another judge at the court, Ali al-Rubaie.
The ambassador, Saad al-Hiyyani, denied the accusation and said he had not been notified of any warrant against him.
The Shiite dissident, Talib al-Suhail, was killed by Iraqi intelligence agents during the rule of Saddam's Sunni regime. Iraq's postwar Shiite-dominated government began pursuing the case in 2005, al-Rubaie said.
The suspect who Iraq's government believes is in Jordan, Awad Fakhri, was charge d'affaires of the Iraqi Embassy in Beirut at the time of the assassination. He also worked as head of the Arab affairs department at the Foreign Ministry in Baghdad until retiring in 2005.
The ambassador to Jordan questioned why the government did not try to arrest him then. He added that Fakhri was most likely in Syria, not Jordan.
"The charges (against me) are false," Ambassador al-Hiyyani said. "They are malicious and bear hidden motives to tarnish my public image."
In Baghdad on Monday, a bomb destroyed a police car, killing one officer and two civilians and wounding eight, police said. Another bomb killed a driver as he approached a military checkpoint in the Sadr City district.
In northern Iraq, two children playing with a hand grenade they found in a stream were killed when it exploded, said police in the city of Kirkuk.