ISKANDARIYA, Iraq A suicide bomber killed 12 Sunni Arab militiamen queuing to collect overdue pay cheques at an Iraqi army post south of Baghdad on Saturday, and wounded 32, police said.
A series of attacks this week that have alarmed Iraqis as they ponder whether a sharp drop in violence set off by the 2003 U.S. invasion can be sustained as Iraqi forces take the lead from U.S. troops in providing security.
Five U.S. soldiers and two Iraqi policemen died on Friday when a suicide bomber drove a truck loaded with explosives at a police post in the northern city of Mosul. Earlier in the week, bombings in Shi'ite areas of Baghdad killed at least 44 people.
U.S. and Iraqi officials said the Mosul and Baghdad bombings bore the hallmarks of Sunni Islamist al Qaeda.
Saturday's attack was in Iskandariya, 40 km (25 miles) south of the Iraqi capital, once part of an area known as the "Triangle of Death" where Sunni extremists like al Qaeda frequently attacked Shi'ite Muslims.
"What have we done to deserve this?" said patrolman Mohammed al-Janabi, who was badly wounded in the abdomen and legs.
"We helped to make this area safe and when we come to receive our salaries, our bodies are ripped apart. God damn al Qaeda, God damn al Qaeda," he shouted.
The U.S.-sponsored Sunni patrolmen, or Sahwas, helped cut the violence in Iraq after they turned on al Qaeda and other insurgents, but ties between them and the Shi'ite-led government in Baghdad have been strained by recent arrests.
Delays in paying the Sahwas, known as "Awakening Councils," have also contributed to tensions.
"The death toll from the suicide attack has risen to 12 killed and 32 wounded," said police colonel Ali al-Zahawi, head of Iskandariya police.
"The Sahwa men were preparing to enter the military post to receive their salaries when a suicide bomber managed to blow himself up among them...," Zahawi had told Reuters earlier.
An official at the mortuary of a local hospital, where survivors were brought on blood-stained stretchers, screaming in pain, said it had received 13 bodies.
Many of the Sahwa were former insurgents and fear the government will target them for past crimes. The U.S. military had been paying their wages until late last year but has now passed all responsibility for the militia to the government.
Iraqi officials and the U.S. military say recent arrests of Sahwa members have been carried out under legal warrants and because of evidence that they committed crimes, such as planting bombs, even after they came onto the U.S. payroll.
"I hope these sacrifices will convince the government that we deserve better treatment," said another survivor, Salman Yasin, lightly wounded on the arm.