Suicide bombers killed 46 people in Iraq on Sunday in two separate attacks targeting anti-Qaeda militiamen that marked the country's bloodiest day in more than two months, security sources said.
File picture shows Sunni Muslim Sahwa militiamen at a checkpoint. (AFP Photo)
Just west of Baghdad, one bomber blew himself up as anti-Qaeda fighters gathered at an army office to receive their salaries, killing 43 people and wounding 40, the defence and interior ministries said.
Al-Balassim, part of the predominantly Sunni Arab district Radwaniyah, is a former insurgent hotspot 25 kilometres (16 miles) from the Iraqi capital.
Near the Syrian border, a second bomber struck in an anti-Qaeda militia office in the town of Al-Qaim, killing three people and wounding six, police said.
Most of the dead in both attacks were Sahwa (Awakening) fighters, members of a Sunni Arab militia, also known as the Sons of Iraq, that with US backing took up arms against Al-Qaeda in late 2006.
The force, recruited from among tribesmen and former insurgents, is credited with turning the tide in the war against Al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Control of the Sahwa passed to Iraq in October 2008, and their wages -- said to have been cut from 300 dollars under US leadership to 100 dollars -- have been paid, often late, by the Shiite-led government.
Baghdad has promised to incorporate 20 percent of the Sahwa into the police and military and find civil service jobs for many of the rest, but the process has been slow and is fraught with risks.
In the past six months many Sahwa fighters and members of their families have been killed in revenge attacks.
The former rebels and tribesmen fret that they are not only in the firing line for Al-Qaeda but also viewed with suspicion by the Shiite-led central government.
Sunday's attack was the deadliest to hit Iraq since May 10 when three car bombs at a factory in Hilla, south of Baghdad, followed by a fourth targeting emergency workers, killed 53 people.
US and Iraqi officials have warned of the dangers of an upsurge of violence if negotiations on forming a new governing coalition continue to drag on, giving insurgent groups an opportunity to further destabilise the country.
More than four months after a March 7 general election which gave no single bloc an overall parliamentary majority, the two lists which won most seats are still bickering over who should be the next prime minister.
Both former premier Iyad Allawi and incumbent Nuri al-Maliki insist that they are best placed to tackle the war-torn country's insecurity and shaky public services.
There are currently 74,000 US soldiers in Iraq but this number will fall to 50,000 by August 31 as the combat troops withdraw, leaving a 50,000-strong training and advisory force behind which is due to pull out by December 2011.