BAGHDAD — A suicide bomber attacked government-backed Sunni militia Sunday as they lined up to be paid on Baghdad's southwestern outskirts, killing at least 39 and wounding 41, Iraqi security sources said.
The blast outside an Iraqi military base in the Sunni district of Radwaniya occurred amid political deadlock after a March election that produced no outright winner and no new government.
Sunni Islamist insurgents linked to Al Qaeda have sought to exploit the political vacuum created by a failure of Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish factions to agree on a coalition government, and have carried out a series of attacks since the vote.
In Sunday's blast, the suicide bomber blew himself up among "Sahwa" militiamen, Sunni fighters who once allied with Al Qaeda but turned on the militant group in 2006 and 2007, helping U.S. forces turn the tide in the war.
"There were more than 85 people lined up in three lines at the main gate of the military base to receive salaries when a person approached us. When one of the soldiers tried to stop him, he blew himself up," survivor Tayseer Mehsen, 20, said at Mahmudiya hospital.
"I lost consciousness and woke up to find myself in hospital."
All of the dead were Sahwa, while two soldiers numbered among the wounded, an Interior Ministry source said.
Police put the number of dead at 39, but the Interior Ministry source said 43 had died. Conflicting death tolls are common in the chaos after an explosion.
There have been a series of attacks against Sahwa leaders in Sunni areas around Baghdad in recent months, many attributed to acts of revenge by former fellow insurgents, or Al Qaeda. Some have been blamed on long-running blood feuds between families.
The sectarian war between once dominant Sunnis and majority Shiites that kicked off after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion has largely subsided, but a Sunni Islamist insurgency persists.
The U.S. military has increasingly taken a backseat role since pulling out of Iraqi urban centers in June last year, and U.S. troops will end combat operations on Aug. 31 ahead of a full withdrawal next year.