BAGHDAD (AP) — A suicide car bomber rammed his explosives-laden vehicle into an Iraqi army checkpoint in a Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad on Sunday morning, killing at least seven people and wounding 18 others, officials said.
The attack happened in the busy Kazimiyah neighborhood, which last week was the focus of an annual pilgrimage that brought hundreds of thousands of Shiite faithful to a golden-domed shrine where two revered Shiite saints are buried.
Authorities imposed strict security measures throughout the capital to protect pilgrims, and no major attacks occurred during the pilgrimage itself, which peaked midweek. It commemorates the death of one of the saints, Imam Moussa al-Kadhim.
Those killed Sunday included five soldiers and two civilian bystanders, according to police.
A medical official in a nearby hospital confirmed the casualty figures. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release information.
Shiites are one of the favorite targets for hardline Sunni insurgents who consider them infidels. Violence has spiked in Iraq in recent weeks, raising fears of a return to widespread sectarian bloodshed.
Hours after the attack, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki landed in Iraq's self-ruled northern Kurdish region to hold a Cabinet meeting as part of an initiative started last year to hold meetings outside Baghdad to better understand the needs of the provinces.
Al-Maliki and government ministers arrived by military plane to the regional capital Irbil, where they were received on a red carpet by the region's president, Massoud Barzani.
The meeting — the first in the Kurdish capital since 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein — carries particular significance because it is seen as a way to melt the ice between Baghdad and Irbil. The two sides have for years been locked in a bitter dispute over oil and land rights, and last year engaged in a military standoff along their disputed internal border.