BAGHDAD -- A car bomb killed at least six people in the central Iraqi city of Ramadi yesterday, shattering the calm of an area that in recent months had been considered one of the safest in the country.
Ramadi police officials said the bomb exploded near the city's courthouse in the late morning after a suicide bomber drove to the site. There were conflicting reports of the number of dead, but women, children and at least one police officer were said to be among the fatalities. The U.S. military had said four people died, including the bomber. At least 30 civilians were injured, Iraqi police officials said.
The car bomb damaged 10 other vehicles, a police official said.
The attack was believed to be the most significant breach of security in central Ramadi in months. The capital of Iraq's Anbar province, Ramadi has become one of the country's quietest cities since Sunni Arab tribal leaders turned on insurgents late last year and began cooperating with U.S. and Iraqi security forces.
Military officials in Anbar said that attacks in Ramadi have dropped from an average of 25 to 30 per day in January to less than one a day and that roadside bomb blasts have fallen 98 percent since February. They attributed the change to the tribal leaders' influence, which has prompted several thousand local men to join the provincial police force, and to the additional U.S. troops sent there in February as part of a security clampdown across Iraq.
But Iraqi and U.S. military officials have warned that al-Qaida in Iraq insurgents who once controlled Ramadi could attempt a comeback by staging attacks such as the one yesterday.
"We always said that there is [al-Qaida in Iraq] left in Anbar and that they are degraded to a point that all they could do is the random spectacular attack," said Maj. Jeffrey Pool, a public affairs officer for the Marines. "Today's bombing is just that."
A U.S. statement said the blast was from an "explosively formed penetrator," a lethal type of roadside bomb that the U.S. military believes is supplied to Shiite militias by Iran - a charge the Iranians deny.
The Iranians promised Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in August that they would curb the flow of weapons to the extremists, Iraqi officials say. U.S. commanders have pointed to a decline in Iranian-origin weapons streaming into the country but said it is too soon to tell whether the drop is significant.
"I think that we're all thankful for the commitment Iran has made to reduce the flow of its weapons and explosives and training into Iraq," said Lt. Gen. James Dubik, the U.S. commander in charge of training and equipping Iraqi forces.
Also yesterday, an American soldier and two British troops were reported killed.
The American died Tuesday in a bomb blast in eastern Baghdad that wounded three other members of the soldier's patrol, the U.S. military said. An Iraqi interpreter was also killed.
The two Britons died when a Royal Air Force helicopter crashed Tuesday night near Baghdad. Two others aboard the helicopter were injured.
British military officials did not report the cause of the crash, which brought to at least 173 the number of British troops killed in Iraq since March 2003, according to the independent monitoring group icasualties.org.
Ann M. Simmons and Tina Susman write for the Los Angeles Times. The Associated Press contributed to this article.