BAGHDAD – A suicide bomber blew up his car Sunday outside government offices west of the Iraqi capital, killing 17 people, including women and elderly people waiting to collect welfare checks, officials said.
Six police officers were among the dead in the latest strike on the provincial council compound in the Anbar province capital of Ramadi, police and hospital officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.
At least 23 people were wounded in Sunday's attack on the compound, which has been a favorite target for insurgents in the past.
"We rushed out of the office complex and saw many people injured and dead, lying on the street," said Anbar Deputy Gov. Saadoun Obeid, who was at his office when the explosion touched off a fire in the compound. "I saw two women who were dead, their bodies burnt."
Obeid said a traffic jam kept the suicide bomber from driving his explosives-laden car to the front gate. Eyewitnesses said the vehicle exploded about 200 meters (yards) from the compound, creating a crater several meters wide.
Officials immediately blamed al-Qaida in Iraq for the attack in Anbar, a former stronghold of al-Qaida militants and Sunni insurgents that stretches just west of Baghdad to Iraq's borders with Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
Police found a second bomb in a nearby parking lot a few minutes later, but said they safely disposed of it. The compound in Ramadi, which is 70 miles (115 kilometers) west of Baghdad, also houses the Anbar police headquarters and the governor's office.
The chairman of the Anbar council, Jasim Mohammed al-Halbusi, put the casualty count much lower, at eight killed and 12 wounded, but said the death toll likely would rise because many of the wounded were in critical condition. Obeid said as many as 57 people were wounded.
Conflicting casualty tolls are common in the immediate aftermath of insurgent attacks in Iraq.
Al-Halbusi said the dead and wounded were Anbar residents who had come to the compound to fill out paperwork or receive government aid.
"The bombing came after a period of calm in the province," al-Halbusi said, blaming it on "powers of hatred who killed innocent civilians."
Another suicide bomber in Iraq's eastern Diyala province killed a Shiite pilgrim and his son as they headed to a parade of worshippers marking Ashoura, an annual ritual for Shiite Muslims.
Diyala police spokesman Maj. Ghalib al-Karkhi said a follow-up blast wounded eight people, including six policemen. The director of the federal police in Diyala province Raghib al-Mamouri was among those injured in the blast along with the provincial councilman Muthana al-Timimi, al-Karkhi said.
Insurgents have frequently targeted government and security officials since shortly after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein. More recently, the have sought to undermine Iraq's security as U.S. troops prepare to leave by the end of next year.
The Islamic State of Iraq, an al-Qaida front group, claimed responsibility for a December 2009 bombing on the same government complex in Ramadi in which Anbar Gov. Qasim al-Fahadawi lost a leg. In July, a female suicide bomber blew herself up at a reception room outside al-Fahadawi's office.
Obeid said al-Fahadawi was not in the building during Sunday's strike.
Associated Press writers Barbara Surk in Baghdad and Sameer N. Yacoub in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.