MOSUL, Iraq (Reuters) - A bomb in a parked car exploded outside a restaurant and a suicide bomber wearing an explosive vest then struck a crowd of bystanders, killing 14 people in the northern Iraqi town of Tal Afar on Wednesday, police said.
The attack was the latest violence in the runup to a meeting of Arab leaders intended as the debut for Iraq on the regional stage after the withdrawal of U.S. forces in December.
Nine years after the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, Iraq is determined to show it can maintain sufficient security to play host to its neighbours for its first Arab summit at the end of this month.
A local official in Tal Afar said: “A parked car bomb exploded near a restaurant in central Tal Afar. Minutes later, a suicide bomber blew himself up in the crowd.”
Police said the final toll was 14 people killed and 23 wounded.
Tal Afar is near the border with Syria, about 420 km (260 miles) north of Baghdad and just west of the volatile northern city of Mosul. The town has a large Shi‘ite population in a volatile province that is also home to many Sunni Arabs as well as Christians, Kurds and Turkmen.
Violence in Iraq has declined since the height of sectarian conflict in 2006-07, but bombings and shootings still take place on a daily basis.
U.S. troops withdrew in December but some militant groups, particularly Sunni insurgents allied to al Qaeda, have said they will not lay down their arms, and many Iraqis worry whether their government has the wherewithal to impose security.
Fighters have frequently targeted Shi‘ite areas and the security forces since the U.S. withdrawal.
In a separate attack on Wednesday, a bomb hit a vehicle occupied by bodyguards of Iraq’s Housing and Construction Minister, Mohammed Saheb al-Daraji, in west-central Baghdad. Police said two people died and eight were wounded.
The housing ministry said Daraji was in a convoy with the vehicle that was struck, but was unhurt. Police said the vehicle was not in a convoy and the minister was not near the scene.
A separate bomb attached to a minibus in northern Baghdad killed two passengers.
The first weeks of February were largely quiet, but attacks have increased since then. On Monday, gunmen in apparently unauthorised uniforms of a special police squad carried out attacks on checkpoints and the homes of police officers in a town in Western Iraq, killing 27 people.
On February 23 attackers killed at least 60 people in strikes mainly on security targets in Shi‘ite areas.
Additional reporting by Kareem Raheem, Aseel Kami and Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Janet Lawrence