BAGHDAD — A bomb in a parked car struck worshippers heading to a Shiite mosque Sunday in Baghdad, killing at least nine people as Iraqis celebrated a Muslim holiday, while the death toll rose to 18 in a coordinated suicide truck bombing and ambush north of the capital.
Relatives and rescue workers pulled bodies from under piles of concrete bricks and rubble in the Sunni city of Samarra, where a suicide truck bomber detonated his explosives late Saturday. Guards had opened fire before he could reach the targeted police headquarters.
Gunmen drove up and fought with police immediately after the blast, which tore through nearby buildings. At least 18 people were killed and 27 wounded, police said.
Nobody claimed responsibility for the attacks in Baghdad and Samarra, but they bore the hallmarks of al-Qaida in Iraq militants who had promised an offensive during Ramadan to undermine U.S.-Iraqi claims of success in quelling the violence in the capital with an 8-month-old security operation.
The fasting month ended this weekend with the three-day Eid al-Fitr festival that began on Friday for Sunnis and Saturday for Shiites.
Also killed on Sunday were a U.S. soldier struck by a roadside bomb during combat operations in southern Baghdad and an Iraqi journalist who was shot while on assignment for The Washington Post elsewhere in the capital.
Salih Saif Aldin, 32, who wrote under the name Salih Dehema for security reasons, was killed in the neighborhood of Sadiyah.
Another U.S. soldier died in a non-combat related incident in the northern Ninevah province, the military said.
The car bombing in Baghdad tore through a minibus that was to carry passengers to the revered Imam al-Kadhim shrine.
But the military has been unable to stop the spectacular car bombings and other attacks that are usually blamed on Sunni insurgents.
Police fatally shot the suicide bomber as he approached the police headquarters in Samarra on Saturday but his explosives-laden fuel truck exploded. Immediately after the blast, about 20 vehicles with at least 60 gunmen drove up to the site and fought with police, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to media.
At least three police officers were wounded in the ensuing fighting, which ended after U.S. military helicopters flew overhead.
Dozens gathered amid the destruction to collect bodies and tend to the wounded, according to AP Television News footage.
An adolescent boy lay in a hospital bed, wearing a filthy T-shirt with half his face bandaged, said five members of his family were killed when the truck exploded near his home. Only he and his father survived, he said.
An American military official in the area, who declined to be identified due to a lack of authorization to release the information, said the gunmen were armed with rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons. The official credited Iraqi police with preventing further casualties.
Samarra lies in the heartland of the Sunni-led al-Qaida insurgency in Iraq and was the scene of the February 2006 bombing that destroyed the golden dome of a famous Shiite shrine there. That bombing set in motion relentless sectarian Shiite-Sunni bloodletting, claiming thousands of lives and threatening to divide the country.
Meanwhile, Pope Benedict XVI made a public appeal in Rome on Sunday for the release of two Catholic priests kidnapped a day earlier on their way home from a funeral in northern Iraq.
Gunmen ambushed the priests' car, dragged them out and took them away, said Archbishop Basile Georges Casmoussa, Mosul's head of the Syrian Catholic Church, one of the branches of the Roman Catholic Church.
Casmoussa himself was kidnapped in January 2005 and released a day later without ransom after the abductors realized his identity.
The pope asked the kidnappers to "let the two religious men go" during his traditional Sunday blessing to pilgrims and tourists gathered in St. Peter's Square.
The Christian community in Iraq is about 3 percent of the country's estimated 26 million people.