Bomb blast hits Iraqi city

Suicide car bomb targets police, kills at least 17 and injures dozens in provincial capital.

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BAGHDAD // A suicide bomber blew up his car today outside government offices in a province west of the Iraqi capital, killing 17 people, including women and elderly people waiting to collect welfare checks, officials said.

Six police officers were also among the dead in the latest strike on a favorite insurgent target, according to police and hospital officials.

At least 23 people were also wounded in today's blast outside the provincial council compound in Ramadi, capital of Anbar province, according to the officials.

Anbar 's deputy governor, Saadoun Obeid, who was at his office when the explosion hit, touching off a fire in the compound, said: "We rushed out of the office complex and saw many people injured and dead, lying on the street. I saw two women who were dead, their bodies burnt."

Mr Obeid said a traffic jam kept the suicide bomber from driving his explosives-laden car to the front gate. Eyewitnesses said the car exploded about 200 metres from the compound, creating a crater several meters wide.

Officials immediately blamed al Qa'eda in Iraq for the attack in Anbar, a former stronghold of al Qa'eda militants and Sunni insurgents that stretches all the way from just west of Baghdad to Iraq's borders with Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

Police found a second bomb in a nearby parking lot a few minutes later, but said they detonated it in a safe area. The compound in Ramadi, 115 kilometers west of Baghdad, also houses the Anbar police headquarters and the governor's office.

The chairman of the Anbar council, Jasim Mohammed al Halbusi, put the casualty count much lower, at eight killed and 12 wounded, but said the death toll would probably rise because many of the wounded were in critical condition. Obeid said as many as 57 people were wounded.

Conflicting casualty tolls are common in the immediate aftermath of insurgent attacks in Iraq.

Mr Al Halbusi said the dead and wounded were Anbar residents who had come to the office complex to fill out paperwork or receive government aid.

"The bombing came after a period of calm in the province," Mr al Halbusi said, blaming it on "powers of hatred who killed innocent civilians."

Government officials in Anbar and across Iraq have frequently been targeted by insurgents since shortly after the US-led invasion in 2003 led to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

Last December, the Islamic State of Iraq, an al Qa'eda front group, claimed responsibility for an attack on the same compound. That attack caused Anbar's governor, Qasim al Fahadawi, to lose an arm and undergo leg surgery in the United States. Mr Obeid said neither Mr al Fahadawi nor many other senior Anbar officials were in the building during today's strike.

In July, a female suicide bomber blew herself up at a reception room outside Mr al Fahadawi's office. Mr al Fahadawi was not there at the time, but the blast coincided with a trip to Iraq by the US vice-president, Joe Biden, undercutting his optimistic predictions of a peaceful transition of power as the nation was beset by political uncertainty.