RAMADI, Iraq (Reuters) - A suicide bomber drove a car packed with explosives into a police checkpoint just outside Iraq’s western city of Ramadi on Monday, killing nine people and wounding at least 13, police said.
Policeman Hatim Abid, who was at the scene, said four police were among the dead, and the rest were civilians. Police Major Fawzi Hamad said the wounded included three children and two women.
The blast set half a dozen cars ablaze in Ramadi, 100 km (60 miles) west of Baghdad, capital of the vast desert region that was once the heartland of Iraq’s Sunni Arab insurgency.
Police checkpoints have been a favorite target of insurgents seeking to show that Iraqi security forces are still unable to keep Iraqis safe as U.S. troops gradually withdraw.
Western Anbar province, controlled by al Qaeda in the years following the U.S.-led ouster of Saddam Hussein in 2003, has been relatively quiet since influential tribal sheikhs joined forces with U.S. troops to drive out the Sunni militants in 2006.
But sporadic attacks continue, like the car bomb that killed six people on August 2. The month before that, a series of bombings in Anbar prompted Iraqi forces to declare a state of emergency in Ramadi.
Anbar also shares a long, sparsely populated border with Syria, where Iraqi officials have long complained that foreign fighters have infiltrated into Iraq.
Despite a sharp drop in violence, Iraq is at a fragile juncture after the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraqi cities at the end of June, a move that raised fears of a return to the sectarian bloodshed that nearly tore Iraq apart in 2006-2007.
U.S. forces are due to halt combat operations entirely next summer and withdraw all forces by the end of 2011.
Twin truck bombings outside government ministries in Baghdad killed nearly 100 people last month, marking Iraq’s bloodiest day this year and prompted a reckoning within the government.
Since then, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has stepped up criticism of Syria, where it says Baath leaders have plotted attacks inside Iraq, and demanded the neighboring country hand over two men believed to have masterminded the attacks.
Syria denies being a safe haven for foreign fighters or militants associated with Saddam Hussein’s banned Baath party.
The feud has intensified, and both Baghdad and Damascus recalled their ambassadors for consultations.
Without singling out Syria by name, Maliki has also requested a United Nations inquiry into the August bombings and condemned outside forces for backing attacks within Iraq.