FALLUJA, Iraq (Reuters) - At least 27 people were killed and dozens wounded on Thursday when a suicide bomber in a car packed with explosives drove into a crowd of mourners at a funeral in Falluja, west of Baghdad, police said.
The U.S. military confirmed that a body pulled from the Euphrates River south of Baghdad on Wednesday was one of three U.S. soldiers missing since their patrol was ambushed on May 12. The military said thousands of troops were continuing to scour farmlands for the other two missing soldiers.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack in Falluja in Iraq’s restive western Anbar province, but police said the funeral was being held for a local businessman opposed to Sunni Islamist al Qaeda.
The group is waging a campaign of bombings and shootings against Sunni Arab tribal leaders, politicians and others in western Anbar province who have formed an alliance against them.
The bomber targeted mourners in a funeral procession for Allawi al-Isawi, a local contractor in Falluja, 50 km (30 miles) west of Baghdad, who was killed earlier on Thursday, police officer Jamal Anfous said.
As mourners walked down a main street holding aloft Isawi’s coffin, the bomber drove into the crowd and blew himself up. A doctor at a local hospital, Ahmed al-Ani, said 27 were killed and more than 30 wounded.
The commander of U.S. troops in Anbar, a stronghold of the Sunni Arab-led insurgency, said last week that al Qaeda accounted for 75 percent of militants in and around Falluja.
Thousands of U.S. troop reinforcements have been sent to Anbar, one of the most dangerous regions in Iraq for U.S. soldiers, as part of a broader military initiative seen as a last effort to avert all-out civil war.
The aim is to give Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Shi’ite-led government breathing space to reach a political accommodation with disaffected minority Sunnis and achieve certain political targets that Washington has demanded.
Maliki presented the names of six new ministers to parliament on Thursday as part of what analysts say is an overdue shakeup of his weak and divided cabinet, criticized for failing to improve security and basic services.
Maliki asked parliament to approve his candidates to fill vacancies left by members of Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s political movement who quit his government in April.
Maliki withdrew his first list of candidates after some politicians complained they were too closely aligned to him.
He had promised to install independently minded technocrats to counter complaints that ministries have become personal fiefdoms for some parties in his coalition government.
U.S. military spokeswoman Lieutenant-Colonel Josslyn Aberle meanwhile confirmed that the body found in the Euphrates River on Wednesday was that of Private First Class Joseph Anzack Jr. of Torrance, California. He was 20 years old.
Iraqi police said the body, wearing U.S. Army-issue pants and boots, had bullet wounds and bore signs of torture.
Anzack went missing with two comrades after their patrol was ambushed on May 12 in Mahmudiya in the “Triangle of Death”, an insurgent stronghold south of Baghdad. Four U.S. soldiers and an Iraqi translator were killed in the attack.
“The search continues for our other two missing service members and we will continue to search until we find them,” Aberle said.
The al Qaeda-led Islamic State in Iraq has claimed responsibility for the attack but offered no proof that it held the three missing soldiers.