(Adds U.S. military statement)
BAQUBA, Iraq, Jan 2 A suicide bomber killed 10 people in Iraq on Wednesday, Iraqi authorities said, the latest in a wave of suicide attacks that has seen a major strike nearly every day of the past week.
Iraqi Army Major-General Abdul-Karim al-Rubaie, chief of security operations for the volatile Diyala province, said the bomber blew themselves up with an explosive vest at a checkpoint in the provincial capital Baquba north of Baghdad.
The U.S. military said the bomber jumped onto the hood of a car driven by a member of a volunteer neighbourhood patrol, killing the driver and three others.
The Iraqi authorities said the bomber was a woman, while the U.S. military said the perpetrator was male.
The attack came a day after a bomber detonated his explosive vest in a tent crowded with mourners at a Baghdad funeral. Police raised the death toll from that strike to 34 on Wednesday, making it the worst in the capital in six months.
U.S. forces said the strikes showed al Qaeda militants can still carry out attacks that kill large numbers of people despite a decline in violence across the country.
"We have said all along ... they do still have the capability to conduct these horrific attacks, barbaric attacks that target innocent civilians in their effort to try to excite sectarian tensions," spokesman Major-General Kevin Bergner said.
Wednesday's bomb struck near crowded shops and stalls. A Reuters photographer at the scene said he saw pools of blood, burnt hair and severed body parts.
He later counted five dead bodies and 16 wounded at a hospital. Police told him other casualties, including 28 wounded, were taken elsewhere.
"I had just left my office. And then the explosion happened. I don't know what happened or how. The blast was very severe," victim Amal Akram, a health clinic employee, told Reuters television from a hospital bed.
SUICIDE BOMBINGS INCREASE
Al Qaeda militants have been driven out of vast swathes of Iraqi territory and overall levels of violence fell sharply in the second half of 2007. December saw the lowest monthly total of civilians killed in at least two years.
But despite the drop in overall violence, U.S. military figures released over the weekend show suicide bombings increased over the past two months after a low in October.
Among those killed in Wednesday's strike was Abdul-Rafaa al-Nidawi, whom police described as the coordinator between U.S. forces and volunteer patrols in the city. Other volunteers were also among the dead.
The mainly Sunni Arab neighbourhood patrols, paid by U.S. forces to oppose Sunni al Qaeda militants, have often been attacked by suicide bombers in recent months.
They were initially set up by tribes that turned against al Qaeda and are now springing up throughout Sunni Arab areas with U.S. funding and support.
Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who is not believed to have direct control over the Iraqi militants that use his organisation's name, threatened attacks against patrol members in an audio tape released last week.
"The fact that al Qaeda is targeting them is the clearest indication that they are concerned about them," Bergner said.
Strikes by female suicide bombers are comparatively rare but there have been several in recent weeks in Diyala.
There have been major bomb attacks on neighbourhood patrol volunteers or civilians nearly every day in the past week. On New Year's Eve a suicide car bomb killed 11 people including five children in a town north of Baghdad. On Christmas Day two separate strikes on patrol volunteers killed at least 33 people. (Additional reporting by Ross Colvin, Editing by Matthew Jones)