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Baghdad triple strike kills 33, wounds 79

Teenage girl blows herself up at checkpoint

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Two car bombs exploded in central Baghdad on Monday and a suicide bomber blew himself up among police and civilians who rushed to help the wounded, a triple strike that killed 28 people and wounded 68.

In another attack, in Baquba, capital of volatile northern Diyala province, a female suicide bomber killed five U.S.-backed security patrolmen and wounded 11 other people, the U.S. military said.

Police said the bomber was a girl of 13.

The triple attack in Baghdad, one of the deadliest incidents in Iraq for months, took place in the Kasra neighborhood on the east bank of the Tigris River in a bustling area of tea shops and restaurants near a fine arts institute.

Male and female students, many of whom were having breakfast at the time of the strike, were among the dead and wounded, as were Iraqi soldiers and police who had rushed to the scene.

Such coordinated and massive strikes have become rare but steady reminders of the capacity of militants to unleash mayhem in Iraq, even though they no longer control whole swathes of towns and villages and violence overall has fallen sharply.

The attack by a female suicide bomber in Baquba is part of a trend that has increased this year. U.S. forces say al-Qaeda Sunni Islamist militants are increasingly recruiting female bombers -- often teenage girls -- to thwart security checks.

Many of the female bombers have lost male relatives and are seen as psychologically vulnerable to recruitment for suicide missions.

Al-Qaeda and like-minded groups have been driven out of many parts of Iraq after local Sunni Arab tribesmen turned against them, but they are making a stand in northern areas such as the rural groves near Baquba.

They often target the mainly Sunni U.S.-backed security patrols, whom they call collaborators.

Sahwas get paid

In the meantime, Sunni militias which have played a key role in driving al-Qaeda fighters from Baghdad began receiving pay cheques on Monday from the Iraqi government that has long eyed them with suspicion.

Up to 60 stations were open throughout the Iraqi capital to pay some 54,000 members of the U.S.-allied so-called Awakening Councils or Sahwas which used to receive their monthly salaries from the U.S. military.

"This is really a tremendously important day and a manifestation of the reconciliation process that is happening in Iraq," U.S. Army Brigadier General Robin Swan told AFP. "The real proof of the pudding is in the payday."

The Iraqi government has always been wary of the groups which formed in 2007 largely made up of fighters that once battled U.S. and Iraqi forces, and its bid to bring them into the security forces could test Baghdad's fragile calm.

The Sahwas say their relations with the Iraqi army under which they serve have improved, but they fear that over the long term the government is determined to sideline them.