May 21, 2009 / 6:24 AM / 10 years ago

Suicide bomber kills three in northern Iraq -army

KIRKUK, May 21 (Reuters) - A suicide bomber killed at least three people and wounded seven others in the northern city of Kirkuk on Thursday, in an attack on Sunni anti-Qaeda militia members queuing to collect their pay, the Iraqi army said.

A police source put the death toll at five.

The blast comes hours after a car bomb killed 35 civilians and wounded 72 others in Baghdad late on Wednesday, police said, though hospital and U.S. military sources gave lower figures.

Sunni Arab state-backed militias, who have been credited with helping to dramatically cut attacks by al Qaeda and other Islamist groups, are frequently targeted by insurgents.

They have been able to exploit ethnic and sectarian divisions in parts of Iraq to remain effective despite their waning influence elsewhere. The oil-producing city of Kirkuk is disputed by Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen.

Security has broadly improved in Iraq in the last year, but a rash of bombings in April made it the deadliest month for civilians since November.

The recent attacks raise questions about whether Iraq can avoid sliding back into greater bloodshed as an untested military prepares to take greater security responsibility and U.S. troops prepare for a full withdrawal by the end of 2011. (Reporting by Mustafa Mahmoud, writing by Mohammed Abbas; Editing by Charles Dick)

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