Page last updated at 21:08 GMT, Thursday, 23 April 2009 22:08 UK

Suicide bombs kill scores in Iraq

Police were distributing aid to homeless families in Baghdad when the bomber struck

Scores of people have been killed in two suicide bombings in Iraq.

At least 48 people, mostly Iranian pilgrims, died when a suicide bomber blew up a restaurant in Baquba, in the north-east, officials say.

In Baghdad, a suicide bomber killed at least 28 people - detonating a belt of explosives as police distributed aid to a crowd of homeless families.

Violence has fallen sharply in the last year but insurgents continue to carry out attacks across Iraq.

The deaths in Baquba, Diyala province, happened when a suicide bomber struck a roadside restaurant packed with Iranian pilgrims, military officials said.

About 63 people were also injured, and the restaurant demolished. Of the dead, only two were not Iranian, Reuters news agency reported.

Two women react to the suicide bombing in Baghdad, 23 April 2009
Women and children are crying from pain beside me in the hospital
Issam Salim
Baghdad resident

Diyala governor Abdulnasir al-Muntasirbillah described the scenes at the hospital in Baquba as "catastrophic".

"Words can't express it. It is a dirty, cowardly terrorist act," he was quoted by Reuters as saying.

The BBC's Jim Muir in Baghdad says if the Baquba casualty figures are confirmed, this will be the deadliest such attack this year.

Diyala has remained one of the two main areas of Iraq which have defied all efforts to bring them under control, our correspondent says.

Officials in Baghdad said the suicide bomber there infiltrated the crowd of displaced families as they received supplies from police in a square near the city centre.

The people had been made homeless by the sectarian conflict which erupted following the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.

At least five children were among the dead and more than 50 people were wounded, police say.

One man, injured by shrapnel from the blast, said a fire erupted as he waited for a bus.

Issam Salim, 35, told Associated Press news agency: "I turned around as I fell to the ground and saw a big fire break out with black smoke.

"Women and children are crying from pain beside me in the hospital. Some of them suffered burns."

'Arrest' investigated

Meanwhile, Iraqi media quoted security officials saying they had arrested Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the purported leader of the Sunni Arab group the Islamic State in Iraq.

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However, defence ministry spokesman Maj Gen Mohammed al Askari told the BBC "we're not sure" when asked about the arrest.

DNA and other investigations had yet to establish the identity of the man arrested, the BBC was told.

In Washington, a Pentagon spokesman said the US military was investigating the arrest claim, AP reported.

On Wednesday, the US Department of Defence's top Middle East adviser said insurgent attacks would probably increase as US forces started to leave, but added that there was no plan to delay troop departures.

US President Barack Obama says the Pentagon will withdraw all but 35,000 to 50,000 troops from Iraq by the end of August 2010.

A joint security agreement requires all US troops to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011.

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