A spate of attacks this week in Iraq appears to be an intensified effort by insurgents — both Sunni and Shiite — to target Iraqi government and civilian leaders who are working with Americans.

The most recent attack struck a meeting of "Awakening" council officials and American Marines in Anbar province on Thursday. Some 50 officials were meeting in Karmah when an explosion killed at least three Marines, two interpreters and 12 Iraqis. Several Iraqi officials quoted in news reports blamed the attack on a suicide bomber from the town and a former Awakening member. The U.S. military said Friday that a member of an extremist cell believed to be behind the attack has been arrested.

Senior tribal leaders in the movement — which turned against al-Qaida and led to a steep decline in attacks in Anbar — were reportedly killed in the attack.

Other attacks this week have targeted Iraqi council meetings and the governor of Ninevah province in the north. At least nine Americans, including civilians, were killed in the attacks, highlighting the continued dangers as the military moves to solidifying the security gains made in many areas of the country.

Lt. Col. Chris Hughes, a Marine Corps spokesman in Anbar, said an investigation into the bombing there remains in an early stage and declined to discuss specifics of the attack.

Hughes said meetings between military officials and local Iraqi leaders are intrinsically dangerous but have paid critical dividends in Anbar, where violence has declined dramatically in recent years.

"The meetings take away a lot of the tools you have to keep you alive as a military member," Hughes said. "You’re going to a pre-arranged meeting and a pre-ordained time. Military logic would tell you that is not wise. However, many of the gains we’ve made here are because we’ve been doing these meetings for going on five years.

"We wouldn’t have had the successes we’ve experienced without these meetings."

Hughes downplayed concerns that the bombing may have been part of a trend of increased attacks. Tribal leaders who cooperate with U.S. forces have long faced retaliation — the founder of the Awakening movement, a groups of tribal leaders allied with the American military, was assassinated by a car bomb last year.

"The danger is not new, and there will continue to be a danger. That’s why we’ve been so cautious about declaring victory," he said. But, Hughes added, "The Awakening is solid. This kind of attack only reinforces why they came over to us in the first place."

Though this week’s attacks had common targets, they came in both Sunni and Shiite areas and are believed to be the work of several organizations.

U.S. officials attributed a truck bomb that killed more than 60 Iraqi civilians at a northwest Baghdad market a week ago to a Shiite so-called "Special Group." That bombing took place about a block from a neighborhood council meeting attended by U.S. troops, though the military has said it’s not clear whether the meeting was targeted. U.S. officials believe many of the special group leaders, who the military has blamed for a run of violence in late March and early April, have either fled or gone into hiding. But the attack on the market demonstrated that some remain active.

"They are showing a decreasing concern for civilian casualties," said Col. Bill Hickman, commander of 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division.

And the attack in Sadr City also was blamed on Shiite special groups who were seeking to disrupt local council efforts.

"The enemy recognizes their greatest weakness is Iraq’s continued development of the government and the government’s improving ability to provide essential services to citizens," said Col. Allen Batschelet, chief of staff for Multi-National Division — Baghdad. "The Public Works Sub-Station opening in Ameriya last week serves as an excellent example. Another example is that of Sadr City, where essential services and security are improving daily. As a result, the heads of the local and national government have been targets."

"As far as trends, the most recent attacks are closer chronologically than in previous months, but this is not a significant rise in attacks on government officials since the time we have been here."

Batschelet said he believes the attacks will only harden resolve against insurgents.

"Our reporting and interaction with the citizens indicates that they are, increasingly, fed up with the criminal activity and violence," he said. "The Sadr City District Advisory Council met yesterday in the same place where the attack occurred, a further demonstration of their commitment and refusal to be intimidated."

Recent attacks in Iraq

June 26: A bomb explodes at a weekly meeting of an "Awakening" council in Anbar province, killing three Marines, two interpreters and at least 20 Iraqis, including tribal leaders.

A car bomb kills 17 and wounds some 80 others in Mosul. The target is apparently the Mosul provincial governor, who escaped the attack uninjured.

June 25: An explosively formed projectile attack kills a U.S. soldier in eastern Baghdad.

June 24: A roadside bomb kills three U.S. soldiers and their interpreter in northern Nineveh province.

A bomb in a district council building kills two U.S. soldiers and two civilians working for the Departments of State and Defense in Sadr City. The Americans were attending a local Iraqi council meeting.

June 23: A former council member opens fire on Americans leaving a local meeting near Salman Pak, south of Baghdad, killing two soldiers and wounding at least three others.

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