Suicide bomb kills at least 22 in Baghdad

BAGHDAD — A suicide bomber blew up his explosives-laden vehicle today in a bustling market area in Baghdad, killing at least 22 people, Iraqi officials said, hours after the arrival of French President Francois Hollande to the country and amid a fierce fight against the Islamic State group.

The bomber driving a pickup truck attacked an outdoor fruit and vegetable market, day laborers and a police checkpoint in Baghdad’s eastern Sadr City district, a police officer said. Up to 35 other people were wounded in that attack, he said, adding that the death toll was expected to rise.

Two medical officials confirmed the casualty figures. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release information.

In an online statement, the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it targeted Shiites. The Associated Press could not verify the authenticity of the statements, but they were posted on a militant website commonly used by the extremists. The group also claimed responsibility for Saturday’s suicide attack in a central Baghdad market, which killed at least 28 people, and Sunday’s suicide bombing at a checkpoint south of Baghdad that killed at least nine people.

Late last month, Iraqi authorities started removing some of the security checkpoints in Baghdad, mainly on its eastern side, in a bid to ease traffic for the capital’s approximately 6 million residents.

During a press conference with Hollande, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said the bomber pretended to be a man seeking to hire day laborers; once the laborers gathered around, he detonated the vehicle. Al-Abadi warned that the “terrorists will further try to hit civilians to make up for the losses,” they have suffered on the battlefield.

“We are determined to annihilate terrorism and we are able to shorten its age,” he said, calling on security forces and civilians to remain vigilant.

Hollande, during his one-day visit, met with al-Abadi and President Fuad Masum. He was scheduled later to travel to the country’s self-governing northern Kurdish region to meet French troops and local officials.

Iraqi troops, backed by a U.S.-led coalition, are fighting IS in a massive operation to retake the northern city of Mosul. Iraqi state TV said Hollande will discuss “increasing support to Iraq and the latest developments in the fight against Daesh,” the Arabic acronym for IS.