A female suicide bomber detonated her explosives vest in a popular marketplace in Diyala province Wednesday, killing at least eight people and injuring seven others.
The attack was the fourth suicide bombing by a woman in Iraq since November, all of them in Diyala, where Iraq's insurgency has been centered for much of the last year.
It occurred on the same day that small-arms fire killed three U.S. soldiers conducting operations in Salahuddin province, north of the capital, the American military said. Two other soldiers were wounded and evacuated to a hospital. The soldiers' identities were not released pending notification of their families.
Wednesday's suicide assault occurred in Khan Bani Saad, a farm village midway between Baghdad and the provincial capital of Baqubah.
"After the explosion, I went outside to see the burning bodies thrown on the ground, and the remains," said Abu Yousif Mtorsi, who sells food at the market. "I saw some children there. Some of them had their eyes open but couldn't speak [or] move -- and some showed involuntary body movements . . . they were between being dead and living."
The perpetrator, witnesses told Mtorsi, was wearing a traditional abaya covering.
"Honestly, my heart was aching worrying about my son, who went to one of the market restaurants to have breakfast," Mtorsi said. "I was looking for him among the dead bodies and those injured. I was thinking that he might be one of them. Later, I felt guilty [because] my son is no different from the innocents lying there, but my son showed up and started helping in evacuating the victims."
Female suicide bombers remain rare, but the U.S. military said they are an increasing threat.
"We have indications that Al Qaeda is trying to recruit more female suicide bombers," said Col. Donald Bacon, a U.S. military spokesman. "They think that the female suicide bombers can infiltrate defenses more easily or they may have more chance for success in their operation. They tend not to be searched as closely."
Military officials said they have reduced the flow of foreign terrorists into Iraq nearly by half in recent months, forcing the Al Qaeda in Iraq group, a Sunni Arab militant formation, to look for new ways to recruit suicide bombers.
"They've had to go out and find different ways to compensate," Bacon said. "I think it's an act of desperation."
Because the bombing occurred at an open market not controlled by a military checkpoint, the bomber did not have to undergo a search. But Bacon said that efforts are underway to increase searches of women where checkpoints do exist.
Bacon said the military continues to study how the women are recruited. Some are relatives of Al Qaeda members. Last month, the military said it had discovered a training operation in Diyala for female suicide bombers. Evidence suggests that women sign up as a way to make amends to their families, he said.
"They feel like they've done something in the past and this is one way to get redemption," Bacon said.
Khan Bani Saad, which is surrounded by verdant orange orchards and date palms, is believed to have absorbed a flood of insurgents recently after an effort to clear them out of a nearby portion of the Diyala River valley.
About 4,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops, backed by warplanes and attack helicopters, swept into the northern part of the valley this month in the latest effort to flush out Al Qaeda in Iraq and its affiliates from their havens. Few insurgents were captured, however, and Wednesday's attack suggested that insurgents continue to operate in the area.
Meanwhile, a bomb embedded in a road exploded near an arts college in an eastern section of Baghdad. Two people were killed and 10 were injured.
In Mosul, the capital of northern Nineveh province, a suicide car bomber targeted a U.S. military convoy. Five Iraqi civilians were killed, but information about any American casualties was not immediately available, Iraqi police Brig. Gen. Khalikl Jubbori said.
In Kirkuk, also in the north, police said a bomb embedded in the road exploded and wounded four policemen.
Iraqi officials in Baghdad announced a vehicle curfew beginning today and ending Saturday across a wide swath of the country in anticipation of the Shiite Muslim holiday of Ashura. In past years, the celebration -- banned under Saddam Hussein -- has prompted attacks by Sunni Arabs.
In Baiji, 125 miles north of Baghdad, an electricity shortage prompted the shutdown of an oil refinery that produces gasoline, kerosene and gas oil. "We have strategic reserves for those products that will cover consumption for only five to six days," said Ali Abdullah, an engineer working at the refinery.
The refinery serves residents of northern and central Iraq, and the shutdown came one day after the primary refinery producing similar products in southern Iraq was shut down by fire.
Special correspondents in Baghdad, Kirkuk and Tikrit and in Diyala province contributed to this report.