A female suicide bomber dressed like a man detonated an explosive belt outside a U.S. military facility in the northern Iraqi city of Tall Afar on Wednesday, killing at least five civilians and injuring more than 30, the military said. The unidentified woman was the first known female suicide bomber in the insurgency that began after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The bomber "was denied entry" to a building, called a civil military operations center, that was used as a semipublic place for U.S. soldiers to interact with local people, said Maj. Gary Dangerfield, a spokesman for the Army's 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in Tall Afar. Residents whose homes were damaged in the recent U.S.-Iraqi offensive in the city could make claims for damages at the facility.
The group al Qaeda in Iraq asserted responsibility for the attack, calling the bomber a "sister" affiliated with the Malik Suicidal Brigade. In an Internet posting, al Qaeda in Iraq, which is led by Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian who is the most feared and wanted insurgent in Iraq, said the bomber attacked the center because it was a gathering spot "of converted volunteers." Residents said the building used to be an Iraqi army recruiting center.
Officials at the Iraqi Interior Ministry in Baghdad said they had no information regarding the attack.
Former president Saddam Hussein's security forces used female bombers at least once during the 2003 invasion, when two women blew up their car at a checkpoint near the northern city of Haditha, killing three American soldiers, the Associated Press reported.
"Today's attack seems to represent a new tactic by the insurgents to use women, who are rarely searched at the Tall Afar checkpoints because of religious and social traditions that grant women special treatment," Gen. Ahmed Mohammed Khalaf, the regional police chief, told the AP. This did not explain, however, how a woman dressed in men's clothing would not have raised suspicions.
Khalaf said that as a result of the bombing, women and children would now be searched in the same manner as men.
In Baghdad on Wednesday, the U.S. military said it erroneously reported on Tuesday that a potential suicide bomber had penetrated a checkpoint inside the Green Zone, the fortified complex in the center of the capital that houses the U.S. Embassy and Iraqi government offices.
The military press office in the Green Zone had told news outlets that U.S. Marines stopped a car rigged with explosives and detained the driver when he attempted to enter a checkpoint near the U.S. Embassy. The vehicle was then detonated, the military said. Such an incident would have represented a significant breach in security in what is considered the safest place in Iraq.
But after other sources within the Green Zone denied the account and reporters pressed for details, the U.S. military issued a retraction.
Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Anne Proctor, a spokeswoman for U.S.-led forces in Iraq, said Wednesday that reports of a car bomb penetrating the Green Zone were "false, yet there was some indication of a car bomb" at the time the military issued the information on Tuesday. "Post-blast analysis concluded the car was not a bomb," she added.
Elsewhere in Iraq, six children were killed in the southern city of Najaf when a remote-controlled bomb detonated outside the home of a top bodyguard of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr. Witnesses said the children were playing in the street when the explosion occurred. Eight others, including men and women, were injured in the attack about 8:30 p.m.
The bodyguard, Kassim Mansouri, was not injured.
The U.S. military announced that a soldier and an airman were killed and another soldier wounded in a roadside bomb attack while conducting a combat logistics patrol Wednesday near Safwan, close to the Kuwaiti border. It also announced the death of a soldier from a roadside bomb north of Baghdad and said a Marine died from a non-hostile gunshot near the western city of Fallujah.
In central Baqubah, an insurgent stronghold about 35 miles north of Baghdad, a suicide car bomber killed an Iraqi police officer and injured three others.
"A civilian car was spotted driving very fast in central Baqubah," said a police official who identified himself as 1st Lt. Mohammad. "A policeman at a checkpoint tried to stop the car, but the driver ran over the policeman, then veered to the side, ramming his car into a shop where a group of police were resting."
The police official said the resulting explosion destroyed part of the building and sent black plumes of smoke into the sky.
And in Samarra, Maj. Jamal Natiq, a spokesman for the Joint Coordination Center in the city about 65 miles north of Baghdad, said three civilians were killed by U.S. forces on patrol in the area. Witnesses said the American patrol shot randomly. The report could not be independently confirmed by the U.S. military.
Mohammad Ahmed Abbasi, director of the Samarra hospital, said in a telephone interview that his facility had received three corpses. The hospital released the bodies to a hospital in Tikrit because the Samarra hospital had no power.
Also on Wednesday, the U.S. military turned over control of the southern city of Karbala to Iraqi security forces, making it the second major city to revert to Iraqi control. The Iraqi army's 8th Division will assume control of Karbala, a city sacred to Shiite Muslims, and Iraqi Col. Emnad Majhoul Selawy said he was confident that Iraqis would be able "to turn back any assault by terrorists."
Hussein Abdul Zahra, 33, a bookshop owner in the city, said the turnover was a sign of the growing power and self-sufficiency of Iraqi forces. "We hope this will be a step towards the regaining of full sovereignty for the country and proof of the success of the political process," he said.
But Aqeel Rasheed, 45, was skeptical. "This is all a big political lie," he said. "We saw what happened in Najaf when the Americans handed over security to the Najaf police. The Americans are still roaming the streets there, and America is going to remain in Iraq indefinitely. With such fanfare, they are trying to delude the Iraqi people."
Special correspondents Saad Sarhan in Najaf, Hasan Shammari in Baqubah and Salih Saif Aldin in Tikrit contributed to this report.