BAGHDAD - A suicide bomber detonated his explosives as American soldiers were handing out toys to children northeast of Baghdad yesterday, killing at least three children and three of the troops, US and Iraqi authorities said.
Seven children were wounded in the attack near Baqubah, where US soldiers wrested control from Al Qaeda in Iraq last summer. The attack, along with a series of other blasts in the capital and to the north, underlined the uncertainty of security in Iraq even as the US military said violence is down sharply across Iraq.
Rear Admiral Gregory Smith, a US military spokesman, said yesterday that terrorist attacks in Iraq are at their lowest levels since January 2006. He said overall violence has dropped 55 percent since a US troop buildup began this year.
Police said the bomb attack occurred as US soldiers were handing out toys, sports equipment, and treats in a playground near Baqubah, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad. Few details were available, but the US military said it was a "suicide vest attack" and that three American soldiers were killed.
Rasoul Issam, 16, said he and his friends were playing soccer when the US soldiers called to them from their vehicles to come get gifts. "We ran toward them and I caught a ball when suddenly an explosion took place about 20 [yards] from us," Issam said from his hospital bed in Baqubah.
Mohammed Sabah, 11, was hit by shrapnel in his hand and chest. "The soldiers gave me pens and I thanked them. After this, the explosion took place and I was hit by shrapnel," he said.
As of yesterday, at least 3,871 members of the US military have been killed since the start of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
The US military attributed the suicide attack to Al Qaeda in Iraq. "This is another example of how Al Qaeda in Iraq cares nothing about the Iraqi people," said Major Peggy Kageleiry, a spokeswoman for US forces in northern Iraq.
Iraqi children frequently converge on American troops who usually carry soccer balls and stuffed animals crammed in their armored vehicles as they seek to garner good will.
In July 2005, a suicide car bomber sped up to American soldiers distributing candy to children and detonated his explosives, killing as many as 27 people, including a dozen children and a US soldier.
That occurred about nine months after 35 Iraqi children were killed in a string of bombs that exploded as American troops were handing out candy at a government-sponsored celebration to inaugurate a sewage plant in Baghdad.
Rocket and mortar barrages also hit several US bases in Baghdad overnight Saturday.
Smith said the attacks caused some casualties but no deaths. "The fight we're up against has not gone away. Today's mortar and rocket attacks demonstrate that the enemy has the capacity to wage violence," he said.
At least 29 people were killed yesterday, including the three soldiers. The deadliest attack was a parked car bomb targeting a convoy carrying Salman al-Mukhtar, an adviser to the Iraqi finance minister. Mukhtar escaped injury, but the blast in the predominantly Shi'ite district of Karradah in central Baghdad killed at least 10 people and wounded 21, including two of the official's bodyguards, according to police and hospital officials.
Sattar Jabbar, the chief editor of an independent daily newspaper, al-Bayan al-Jadid, was in the car with the minister's adviser when the explosion occurred but also was not hurt, said Jabbar's brother, Abdul-Wahhab.
Smith said overall attacks in Iraq have fallen 55 percent since nearly 30,000 additional American troops arrived in Iraq by June, and some areas are experiencing their lowest levels of violence since the summer of 2005.
Iraqi civilian casualties were down 60 percent across the country since June, and the figure for Baghdad was even better - 75 percent, he said. But he acknowledged the "violence is still too high" and warned that Iraq still faces serious threats from Shi'ite militants and Al Qaeda in Iraq.
Smith told reporters that Iran continues to be the principal supplier of weapons, arms, training, and funding of many militia groups.
"A large number of Iranian weapons still exist here in Iraq. We do believe there are still individuals who are coordinating activities. . . . The degree to which Iran has ceased completely its training, equipping, financing, and resourcing has yet to be witnessed or determined on the battlefield, but the trends are going in the right direction," he said.