WORLD> Middle East
Female suicide bomber kills more than 20 in Iraq
Updated: 2008-09-16 13:44

At least 35 people were killed and scores wounded across the country as General David Petraeus prepared to hand over command of forces to General Raymond Odierno.

The crowd was enjoying a feast in the town of Bala Druz, south of the provincial capital Baquba as people gathered to break the Ramadan fast.

Witnesses from the town said that the bomber attacked as the crowd was finishing dinner and getting ready to leave.

Diyala is one of the most dangerous areas of Iraq. Insurgent groups and Al-Qaeda have continued launching attacks there despite a massive military crackdown by US and Iraqi forces.

A number of attacks in Diyala, especially suicide bombings, have been carried out by women.

The latest attacks occurred as US Defence Secretary Robert Gates was in Iraq on a surprise visit and to oversee the handover of US forces' command from Gen Petraeus to Gen Odierno.

Last week Gen Petraeus said that he was leaving behind a "significantly improved" Iraq but one that was still vulnerable to attacks by Al-Qaeda.

"A resurgence of Al-Qaeda, return of special groups (Shiite extremist cells) in some form and potential political discord turning into violence on the ground" could erase the security gains achieved in Iraq, Petraeus said.

He said the jihadist group was still not defeated but that "Al-Qaeda has been significantly damaged, degraded and is on the run." But it was still capable of launching "lethal, sensational, dangerous and barbaric attacks".

Al-Qaeda has been blamed by the US military for most of the brutal violence in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime.