Suicide bombers Friday killed up to 26 people in Iraq, targeting police and a US-
allied Sunni paramilitary group in a province north-east of Baghdad, in two attacks that represent a small spike in a form of insurgency that had been in decline.

The attacks came the day after the top US commander in Iraq said US and Iraqi authorities were considering proposals such as a civilian job corps to employ US-allied Sunni as an alternative to bringing them into the police force, a possibility that worries many Shia.

Police said the first suicide bomber, who killed up to 16 people in the town of Muqdadiya, was a woman former member of Saddam Hussein’s ruling Ba’ath party, the second suicide bombing involving women in less than two weeks.

Another blast at a police checkpoint killed seven Iraqi soldiers and three US-allied paramilitaries.

The paramilitary organisations, dubbed “Concerned Local Citizens” by US officers, were formed largely by Sunni leaders as a reaction against abuses by the radical al-Qaeda network, which reportedly terrorised civilians in their areas.

Such organisations are credited with dramatic successes against al-Qaeda. US forces claim to have decimated the network’s leadership, killing or capturing 40 senior members in the past month, and to have crippled their movement in many parts of the capital.

But the suicide attacks that are reportedly al-Qaeda’s trademark, continue, although at a reduced rate compared with the summer. Paramilitary organisations appear to be one of the bombers’ main targets.

Some analysts suggest that al-Qaeda’s role may be overrated, with other insurgent networks or elements of the Ba’ath party also carrying out suicide attacks.

Sunni say Ba’athists work alongside other Sunni militant groups in an advisory capacity.

The “Concerned Local Citizens”, or CLC groups – which US forces say include more than 60,000 people – pose their own political challenge.

Plans to bring the CLCs into the police have reportedly triggered alarm among some members of the Shia-led government, who fear the US military may not have adequately vetted the groups to prevent al-Qaeda infiltration.

General David Petraeus, the top US commander in Iraq, said on Thursday that a civilian job corps might be formed as alternative employment for CLCs.

“Not all CLCs by any means want to be in the Iraqi army or the police, they just want to contribute to the security of their neighbourhood and then either go back to school, get a job or do something else,” he told reporters.

Gen Petraeus said several ideas had been developed to deal with CLC members who were not interested in being integrated into the national police or army, such as civil service battalions that were to be tested in Baghdad.

“What clearly everyone wants to do is provide an alternative to being a CLC at the point that the CLCs are no longer needed in the neighbourhood, ie, they are replaced by Iraqi police, ideally, Iraqi army,” he added.

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