BAGHDAD -- Assailants launched a complex strike on a government compound northeast of the capital Tuesday, setting off a suicide car bomb outside and then breaching the building's perimeter. Nine people were killed, including at least three of the attackers.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility but the attack in Baqouba bore the hallmarks of the insurgent group, Al Qaeda in Iraq. The assault also raised questions about how prepared Iraqi security forces are to protect the country when American troops leave by the end of this year.
"The aim of such an attack is to create more chaos and to hinder any attempts to push the country forward," said Abdullah Hassan, a member of the provincial council that had been scheduled to meet at the site Tuesday morning. He said that gathering was to start roughly an hour after the attack began but had been delayed.
The assault in Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, started when a suicide bomber exploded a car bomb at the entrance to the compound, according to the commander of the Iraqi army's 5th Division, which is in charge of Diyala province.
Gen. Dhiaa al-Danbos said two other attackers were killed in the compound's yard surrounding the provincial government building, while a third person got into the building and began shooting.
The spokesman for Iraq's defense ministry, Gen. Mohammed al-Askari, told state TV that four militants entered the yard; three of them were killed and one managed to mak it into the building.
The conflicting accounts could not immediately be reconciled. There also were conflicting information about whether the assailants who died were killed by Iraqi security forces or blew themselves up.
The attacker who made it into the building killed three civilians inside the reception area before he was wounded by security forces.
Al-Askari blamed Al Qaeda for the attack and compared it to an assault carried out in March against a government compound in Tikrit.
Gunmen in that attack wore military uniforms over explosives belts and charged into a government building in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit. The attack left 56 people dead, and the five-hour standoff ended only when the attackers blew themselves up in one of the bloodiest days in Iraq this year.
Violence in Iraq has dropped dramatically since the most vicious of the Shiite-Sunni sectarian fighting just a few years ago. But militant groups have demonstrated their continued capability to carry out violent attacks.
Two U.S. soldiers died Monday during operations in southern Iraq, U.S. military officials said. The soldiers were not identified pending notification of next of kin.
The new deaths bring to 4,462 the number of American service members who have died in Iraq since the war began in 2003, according to an Associated Press count. And it brings to eight the number of U.S. troops killed in June so far.
Shiite Muslim militias have stepped up attacks on U.S. forces with the approach of the year-end withdrawal of all American troops.