17 killed in northeastern Iraq
Baghdad - Two separate attacks killed 17 people on Thursday in a northeastern Iraqi province that was once an al-Qaeda stronghold, Iraqi officials said.
The marketplace car bombing and the assault on the home of an anti-al-Qaeda militia leader came on the third day of a visit by US Vice President Joe Biden, in advance of the withdrawal of American troops at the end of the year.
A parked car bomb exploded in the town of Khalis as morning shoppers were starting to arrive, killing 10 persons and wounding 22 others, two police officials said.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to talk to the media.
Khalis, a Shi'ite enclave 80km north of Baghdad, is surrounded by the largely Sunni province of Diyala. The province was a hotbed of al-Qaeda in Iraq during the height of the country's violence in 2004-2007.
Also in Diyala, gunmen stormed the home of an anti-al-Qaeda Sunni fighter at dawn and killed seven people, police said. The victims of the attack in the town of Buhriz about 60km north of Baghdad included the local leader of the pro-government Sahwa or Awakening Councils movement and six members of his family, four of whom were women.
Withdrawal of US forces
Faris al-Azawi, the spokesperson of Diyala's health directorate, confirmed the death tolls in both Khalis and Buhriz.
The attacks came as Biden met with Iraqi officials on a trip designed to chart a new relationship between the two countries ahead of the withdrawal of US forces by the end of this year.
Iraqi security officials maintain that they are fully prepared for the American withdrawal, which is required under a 2008 security pact between the US and Iraq. About 13 000 US troops are still in the country, down from a one-time high of about 170 000. All of those troops will be out of the country by the end of December.
But many Iraqis are concerned that insurgents may use the transition period to launch more attacks in a bid to regain their former prominence and destabilize the country.
At least 56 Iraqis have been killed in separate attacks across the country in the past eight days, a warning that even more violence may be in the offing ahead of the American withdrawal.