BAGHDAD — A suicide bomber killed five U.S. soldiers as they chatted with shop owners while on a foot patrol in central Baghdad on Monday, the deadliest attack on American forces in the heavily fortified capital in more than eight months.
The bombing, just four days after nearly simultaneous blasts killed scores of people in a vibrant Shiite commercial district, again showed the insurgents' ability to strike inside a capital secured by hundreds of security checkpoints.
The military insists that recent attacks do not point to a growing trend in violence and continues to tout the security gains achieved over the past year.
At any rate, the push over the past six months to place U.S. bases inside neighborhoods and get soldiers out of their armored vehicles increases the Americans' vulnerability to attacks. While the face-to-face contact from foot patrols builds goodwill, it also gives suicide bombers better access to soldiers.
On Monday, the soldiers were walking in a shopping district of the predominantly Sunni Mansour neighborhood when a man in his 30s detonated his explosives, said a police officer who witnessed the attack. He spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he wasn't allowed to talk to the media.
Mohammed, a hamburger vendor whose stand is about 175 feet from the site of the bombing, said that the same group of eight or nine soldiers had been coming to the street for the last three days, getting out of their Humvees and walking around the shopping area.
"Usually, we see the Americans come in Humvees and they don't stop," said the vendor, who was afraid to give his last name. He said that before the bombing, he had been surprised that the soldiers had allowed pedestrians to come up and talk to them, instead of keeping them at a distance as they normally do.
Military officials did not release details of the attack or explain how the suicide bomber was able to approach the soldiers so easily. But an Iraqi army officer at a checkpoint near the site of the bombing said the bomber had walked up to the soldiers and engaged them in conversation.
"He came and stood beside them and started talking to them and then detonated himself," the officer said.
Four of the soldiers died at the scene, and the fifth died later from wounds, the military said. Three other American soldiers and an Iraqi interpreter were also wounded in the attack, which Maj. Mark Cheadle, a military spokesman, said "was reported to us as a suicide bomber."
Iraqi police said two civilians were also killed.
It was the deadliest attack against the U.S. military since Jan. 28, when five soldiers were killed in a roadside bomb in the northern city of Mosul. The last time five soldiers were killed in a single attack in the capital was June 28, 2007, when insurgents launched a coordinated attack on a combat patrol.
Monday's attack was the worst of a string of attacks throughout the country that appeared to target Iraqis sympathetic to the Americans.
In Baqubah, northeast of Baghdad, a woman suicide bomber killed a tribal leader and head of local forces known as Awakening Councils, groups of American-backed former insurgents who have risen up against al-Qaida.
In Basra, Dr. Khalid Nasir al-Miyahi, one of only two psychiatrists left in the region, was killed while on duty at Basra al-Sadr hospital.
A car bomb exploded outside the most important hotel in the northern Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah, killing two people and wounding 30 in the first significant attack in that normally placid city in several years.
Information from the Associated Press and the New York Times was used in this report.