A car bomb at an Iraqi army unit in volatile Diyala province killed at least eight soldiers, officials said on Monday, as the Iraqi government continues to battle a stubborn insurgency.
The blast took place near an army headquarters in Kanaan, 70 km (45 miles) northeast of Baghdad. According to Diyala's governor Abdul Nassir al-Mahdawi, 11 soldiers were killed, and 30 were wounded, including 14 soldiers.
"The explosion was unusual and unprecedented, which left a two-meter-wide and three-meter-depth crater in the ground," said the governor. "So far the exact reason for the explosion has not been officially confirmed, but according to initial investigations it was not a suicide bomber."
A spokeswoman for the governor, Samira al-Shibli, said the bomb was in a parked car, and a second bomb was discovered nearby but diffused by officials before it could explode. Emergency workers were still frantically trying to rescue victims from beneath the rubble several hours later.
Diyala health directorate spokesman Faris al-Azawi said the bomber drove the truck straight through the checkpoint at the entrance to the base and rammed the main building housing the sleeping quarters of the troops.
"There was a fault in the security procedure. If the security people had done their job, the vehicle would not have been able to reach the base," said Iman Karkhi, a member of Diyala's provincial council.
"I call on the government to compensate the people for their material losses," she said, adding that at least 150 homes in the vicinity had been damaged. Officials said an army building had been destroyed and other buildings were damaged by the blast, including the provincial council building, which adjoins the base. Also, at least five civilian vehicles were charred by the blast.
Links to al-Qaeda
A senior Iraqi intelligence official said al-Qaeda suspects being held in prison have tipped off authorities to the upcoming threat, and said insurgents have already planned a strike in Baghdad but need funding to carry it out.
Kanaan is situated some 10 kilometres east of Baquba, the chief town of Diyala province, a former Al-Qaeda stronghold which remains one of the most violent in Iraq because of strong ethnic and religious differences. A Jan. 20 bomb attack in Kanaan against a group of pilgrims en route to mourning ceremonies in the southern city of Karbala, killed one pilgrim and wounded three.
In that same month, the Islamic State of Iraq, an al-Qaeda front group, has claimed responsibility for two bombings at security force headquarters in Baqouba that together killed 10 people.
Diyala is one of few remaining provinces where large numbers of al-Qaeda and other Sunni insurgents still battle Iraqi security forces. A volatile mix of minority Kurds, majority Shi'ites and Sunnis has made it difficult to bring peace there.
Violence has significantly declined since its peak in 2006-2007, but deadly attacks remain a part of daily life.
A total of 197 Iraqis were killed in nationwide violence in February.