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Suicide Bomber Kills 16 In Iraq’s Anbar Province

A member of an antiterrorist militia stands guard. Anbar Province has benefitted organized Sunni militias.

A member of an antiterrorist militia stands guard. Anbar Province has benefitted organized Sunni militias.

BAGHDAD (Reuters) -- A suicide bomber wearing a vest packed with explosives killed at least 16 people and wounded 50 others at a military base in Iraq's western Anbar Province, the army and police said.

An eyewitness said the bomber was wearing a military uniform when he detonated his explosives among soldiers on parade at the base. A conflicting report from army and police sources said the explosion took place at the base's cafeteria.

All the casualties were soldiers, the army and police said.

Anbar had once been overrun with Al-Qaeda and other Sunni Islamist insurgents, but became one of Iraq's quietest provinces after Sunni tribal sheikhs turned on militants in their midst in late 2006.

The sheikhs formed a political party which last week confirmed its domination of Anbar's bitterly contested local council after January polls, in which the party did well on a platform of security after routing Al-Qaeda from the province.

The blast is the first serious attack since the new council came to office.

The sheiks' decision to turn on Al-Qaeda was copied elsewhere in Iraq, and U.S.-backed Sunni militias were formed to battle insurgents.

Shi'ite-led government forces clashed with a Sunni militia in Baghdad late last month after they arrested a militia leader, raising tensions.

The bombing on April 16 was one of a string of high-profile attacks in Iraq in recent weeks, as provinces finalize new alliances and choose new governors after January's vote.

The new political landscape is likely to set the scene for a national election scheduled for December, leading some analysts and Iraqis to point to political motives for the attacks.

Others say insurgents are trying to exploit tensions between the government and the Sunni militias, many of whom were former insurgents and could return to Al-Qaeda's ranks if they feel threatened by the state.

An attack on April 15 targeting a bus carrying police assigned to guard northern Iraq's oil industry killed 10 people in the city of Kirkuk. The explosion could have been caused by a parked car bomb or a car driven by suicide bomber, police said.