A suicide bomber blew himself up Monday at a banquet intended to be a reconciliation feast between provincial officials and former Sunni insurgents in Diyala province, killing 16 people and wounding at least 28.
Among the wounded were the provincial governor, the regional police chief and the local military commander, local police officials said. At least one former insurgent leader was killed, they said.
The gathering was of the type that is a cornerstone of American plans to reconcile former insurgents with the Iraqi government and enlist their help in fighting Sunni extremist groups. The strategy has produced security gains in Sunni areas in western Iraq, and the military is trying to repeat that success in places like Diyala, a mixed area of Sunnis and Shiites north of Baghdad.
The American military confirmed that American officers had attended the meeting, held at a Shiite mosque in an outlying district of Baqouba, the provincial capital. A military statement confirmed that soldiers had been attacked by a suicide bomber, but gave no details about any wounded or dead among the Americans.
“There are an unknown number of casualties, and the incident remains under investigation,” a statement from the military said.
The bombing was the second aimed at leaders of the so-called Sunni awakening this month. On Sept. 13, a suicide bomber killed Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha, the Sunni tribal leader who unified several tribes to fight Sunni extremists in Anbar province, in western Iraq. Abu Risha was killed 10 days after meeting with President Bush at a military base in Anbar.
The reconciliation banquet had been arranged to break the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan. The suicide bomber detonated himself at the entrance to the mosque, where he was stopped by guards as the group was having tea in the yard.
“I saw a young man in his 30s running toward the front gate of the mosque,” a police officer said in a telephone interview. “He wanted to reach the governor, but the guards stopped him. He immediately exploded himself.”
“The explosion was huge,” another police officer at the site said. “It says that al-Qaida is still alive in Baqouba.” He was referring to al-Qaida in Mesopotamia, a homegrown jihadist group that American intelligence agencies believe is foreign-led.
Among the dead Monday was Hajji Najim, a former leader of the 1920s Revolutionary Brigade, an insurgent group named after an uprising in that year against the British occupation of Iraq. It is one of the Sunni extremist groups that had battled American forces but now appear to have stopped.
Diyala province is strategically important for the United States because it is a transit point for Sunni extremists moving from predominantly Sunni regions in northwestern Iraq into Baghdad. Violence has surged again in the area after a brief hiatus during an American offensive in July.