By SAMEER N. YACOUB, Associated Press
BAGHDAD (AP) — A suicide bomber detonated an explosives-rigged belt at a gathering of his own family in western Iraq, killing his pro-government cousin and six other relatives, officials said Saturday.
The blast targeting a leader in the Sahwa militias in the city of Ramadi is a reminder of how extremism still divides Iraq's Sunni Muslim minority, with some working with al-Qaida-linked insurgents against others who support the Shiite-led government.
The killing is part of a surge in violence six months after the last American troops withdrew.
The bomber entered the home of his cousin, the local Sahwa leader, on Friday night as the extended family was gathered for a meal, said a police official in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, 115 kilometers (70 miles) west of Baghdad.
He approached the militiaman and detonated his explosives, killing his target as well as his wife, three of their teenage children, his brother and another relative, said the official. He could provide no other details including the number of wounded.
A hospital worker in Ramadi confirmed the deaths. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.
Anbar is the province where Sunni tribes first revolted against al-Qaida in late 2006 and 2007, joining U.S. troops to fight the insurgency.
The movement was called Sahwa, or Awakening, and helped turned the tide of the war, although deadly attacks remain a grim fact of life for Iraqis. The Sahwa militia members are a favorite target of the Sunni insurgency, which sees them as traitors.
The last American troops left Iraq on Dec. 18, nearly nine years after leading an invasion to oust dictator Saddam Hussein. Immediately after the withdrawal, al-Qaida unleashed a bloody wave of bombings and targeted killings.
Attacks had slightly decreased since January, but starting in early June, major bombings have come at a rate of every few days instead of every few weeks, killing at least 300 people.
The sustained level of attacks suggests the insurgents are emboldened by Iraq's protracted political crisis, which pits Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki against Sunni, Kurd and rival Shiite politicians who say they are being sidelined.
Experts say the crisis in neighboring Syria may also be fanning the Iraqi insurgency, as some weapons intended for rebels fighting forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad could be falling into the hands of Iraqi militants as they cross the country.