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Suicide Bomber Kills Nine Sunni Militiamen In Iraq

Awakening Council militia man a checkpoint in Baghdad.

Awakening Council militia man a checkpoint in Baghdad.

ISKANDARIYA, Iraq (Reuters) -- A suicide bomber targeted a group of Sunni Arab militiamen queuing to collect paychecks at an Iraqi Army post south of Baghdad, killing nine and wounding 31, police said.

The U.S.-sponsored Sunni patrolmen, part of the Awakening movement, helped cut violence in Iraq after they turned on Al-Qaeda and other insurgent groups although ties between them and the Shi'ite-led government in Baghdad have been strained in recent weeks by the arrest of Awakening leaders.

The violence unleashed by the U.S.-led invasion six years ago has fallen dramatically across Iraq over the past 18 months, but insurgents continue to carry out frequent car- and suicide-bomb attacks. Suicide bombings are a hallmark of Al-Qaeda.

The attack took place in Iskandariya, 40 kilometers south of the Iraqi capital, which was once part of an area known as the "Triangle of Death" where Sunni Islamist extremists frequently attacked Shi'ite Muslims.

The militiamen were waiting to get overdue paychecks from the authorities. Delays in paying the Awakening Councils, or "Sahwas," have contributed to tensions between them and the government.

"The Sahwa men were preparing to enter the military post to receive their salaries when a suicide bomber managed to blow himself up among them, killing nine of them," said police Colonel Ali al-Zahawi, head of Iskandariya police.

At a local hospital, survivors were carried in on bloodstained stretchers, screaming in pain.

"What have we done to deserve this?" said Sahwa member Muhammad al-Janabi, who was badly wounded in the abdomen and legs.

"We helped to make this area safe and when we come to receive our salaries, our bodies are ripped apart. God damn Al-Qaeda, God damn Al-Qaeda," he shouted.

Many of the Sahwas were former insurgents and fear the government will target them for past crimes. The U.S. military had been paying their wages until late last year but has now passed all responsibility for the militia to the government.

Iraqi officials and the U.S. military say the recent arrests of Sahwa members have been carried out under legal warrants and because of evidence that they committed crimes, such as planting bombs, even after they came onto the U.S. payroll.

"I hope these sacrifices will convince the government that we deserve better treatment," said another survivor, Salman Yasin, lightly wounded on the arm.