BAGHDAD — Nearly 40 people were killed and about 100 injured Thursday in a suicide attack at a town meeting in Anbar province and a coordinated rocket attack and bombing in the northern city of Mosul. The dead included three U.S. Marines.
The mayor and the tribal chief in the Anbar town of Karmah were killed along with the Marines and 16 other people when a bomber blew himself up during a meeting of sheiks and city leaders. Twenty people were injured.
The blast followed two other attacks this week on government buildings where U.S. forces were meeting with local officials in an effort to restore public services and establish democratic processes. It occurred only days before the U.S. military planned to hand over responsibility for security in the western province to the Iraqis, raising questions about whether to delay that move. The U.S. military said two interpreters were among those killed in Karmah. It gave no further details. The Marines' deaths brought to 4,113 the number of U.S. service members who have died since the war began in March 2003, according to the independent website icasualties.org.
The 29 U.S. deaths so far this month represent a sharp increase from the 19 for all of May, which was the lowest monthly total since the U.S.-led invasion.
The military said the attack in Karmah, about 25 miles west of Baghdad, bore the hallmarks of Al Qaeda in Iraq, which had dominated Anbar province until tribal leaders banded together in late 2006 to fight the militant group.
The breach of security Thursday by a bomber wearing a police uniform convinced some local leaders that the transfer of authority in Anbar would be premature.
The head of the Sons of Iraq groups that helped the Marines turn the tide against the insurgency in Fallouja, one of the province's major cities, said he recommended a six-month postponement.
"We are still not efficient in Anbar," Ifan Sadoon Ifan said. "They couldn't secure a building with 800 square meters, so how are they expected to protect Anbar?"
In a statement, the Marines said that the bombing would not affect the timing of the transfer but that poor weather might cause the ceremony to be postponed a few days.
This week's spate of attacks on political gatherings is not a sign of a resurgent Al Qaeda in Iraq, said Bruce Hoffman, a counter-terrorism expert at Georgetown University.
The insurgency is settling in for a long campaign, Hoffman said. The attacks demonstrate that it can still terrorize even though its strategy of mobilizing the population and holding down territory has failed, he said.
Nor were all the attacks linked to Al Qaeda in Iraq. Iraqi security officials have concluded that inter-Shiite rivalry led to the bombing Tuesday in Baghdad's Sadr City district that killed two U.S. soldiers and three U.S. government employees. On Monday, a gunman killed two U.S. soldiers and wounded three in the town of Madaen, 15 miles southeast of the capital.
In the other major attack Thursday, Nineveh provincial Gov. Duraid Kashmoula was inspecting the site of a rocket attack near the governor's building in Mosul when a car bomb exploded. At least 18 people were killed and more than 70 injured in the two attacks.
Kashmoula was unharmed, police said.
Tradesman Qadir Ali, 26, said that one rocket set a commercial building on fire and that as people ran back and forth in panic, another struck.
Ali said he rushed out to greet the governor when he arrived and was injured by the blast from the car bomb near Kashmoula's convoy.
"What's the use of living in such a country that knows nothing but killing and devastation?" Ali said from his hospital bed.
Also Thursday, guards of the education minister opened fire on students in Baghdad after a scuffle broke out at a large testing center.
About 5,000 students from the college of education in the Sulaikh district arrived for their final exams only to find insufficient seating, student Husham Muhsin Rubaie said. They were protesting when the minister, Khudair Khuzai, showed up on a routine visit.
The guards perceived a threat to Khuzai, said one guard who declined to give his name.
"So we shot in the air," he said. "One of the guards shot by mistake, and I saw two or three students injured."
Rubaie said one student was killed.
The guards whisked Khuzai away.
Times staff writers Saif Rasheed and Raheem Salman in Baghdad and special correspondents in Baghdad, Mosul and Ramadi contributed to this report.