BAGHDAD (AP) — Gunmen burst into a house north of Baghdad early Wednesday, killed three people and then sent the surviving children to lure over soldiers from a nearby Iraqi army checkpoint, killing eight.

The pre-dawn incident in the volatile Diyala province underlines the unrelenting dangers that members of Iraq's security forces still face as American troops prepare to reduce their numbers by the end of the month and end all combat operations.

It also shows the constantly evolving and sophisticated tactics of insurgents that American and Iraqi officials say have been seriously debilitated since the deaths of their top leaders last spring.

The town's mayor, Sheik Ahmed Al-Zarqushi, told The Associated Press that gunmen broke into the house at about 1 a.m. in the town of Sadiyah, 60 miles (95 kilometers) north of Baghdad and killed a man and two women inside. They then sent the two children to a nearby Iraqi army checkpoint to tell the soldiers about their parents' bodies.

"When the Iraqi army forces arrived and broke into the house, the house blew up killing eight soldiers and wounding four others," he said.

The mayor, who said he met with the children after the incident, gave their ages as 12 and 10, and said they're now staying with their relatives.

Al-Zarqushi said security forces have arrested several suspects after the attack. Groups linked to al-Qaida are very active in the area, he said.

The gunmen escaped out the back door and climbed over a fence before the soldiers arrived on the scene, said an official with the Diyala operations command. He said authorities have sealed the area and have been searching for suspects.

The death toll and account was confirmed by Capt. Qais Ahmed, from the Iraqi army in Sadiyah.

Blowing up houses is one of the newer types of attack in Iraq that security officials have blamed on al-Qaida linked groups. Such incidents have been used most in the western province of Anbar where al-Qaida has been particularly vicious in its attempt to seek retribution and intimidate members of the anti-al-Qaida Awakening Councils as well as security forces.

On Aug. 2, gunmen blew up the house of a policeman in Fallujah, killing the policeman, his wife and son. In early July, gunmen blew up five houses in different parts of the Sunni district of Abu Ghraib, west of Baghdad, belonging to a policeman, an ambulance driver and members of an Awakening Council. Three people were killed.

The ongoing attacks against Iraq's security forces come as the U.S. is moving to reduce its troop levels to 50,000 by the end of August. The remaining troops are expected to leave by the end of 2011, and after Aug. 31 will no longer be doing combat operations.

Many Iraqis and Iraqi officials fear the persistent drumbeat of attacks is an attempt by insurgent groups to disrupt Iraq's fragile security at a time when efforts to come up with a new government five months after the March 7 election are stalled.

Like much of the Middle East, Iraqis will begin observing the holy month of Ramadan this week, and little in the way of political progress is expected to happen during the holiday in which Muslims fast from sunup to sundown.

Meanwhile in Baghdad, gunmen broke into the house of a senior female doctor and killed her, Iraq's health minister and a police official said.

The minister, Saleh al-Hasnawi, said the gunmen broke into the house of Dr. Intissar al-Tuwaijri at about 6:00 a.m., tied up her husband and killed her.

Al-Hasnawi said he believed the killing of the physician he described as one of the best doctors in the country was a criminal incident, and that his ministry was waiting for the results of a police investigation.

Al-Tuwaijri was the general director of Alwiyah Maternity hospital in Baghdad's central Karradah area.

A police officer said the preliminary investigation showed that the gunmen used pistols fitted with silencers and stole 250 million Iraqi dinars (about $215,000).

All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release information.


Associated Press Writer Yahya Barzanji in Sulaimaniyah, Iraq, and Sinan Salaheddin in Baghdad contributed to this report.