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Female suicide bomber strikes soccer fans in Iraq

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  • NEW: Attack strikes people celebrating Iraq team's win in World Cup qualifier
  • 29 wounded in predominantly Kurdish town in Diyala province
  • Twenty female suicide bombings in Iraq this year, a sharp uptick
  • Insurgent recruiters target troubled women, authorities say
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A female suicide bomber in northern Iraq targeted buoyant soccer fans who had just watched their national team win a big match against China, authorities told CNN.

At least 29 people were wounded when the bomber detonated her suicide vest in a marketplace in the Diyala province town of Qara Tappa, a predominantly Shiite Kurdish town with a Shiite Turkmen population.

Col. Ragheb al-Omairi, spokesman for Diyala Military operations command, who confirmed the account, said police on foot patrols were also in the area of bombing.

Twenty-five civilians and four police were wounded, with at least 12 of the civilians in critical condition.

The match, which Iraq won 2-1, was watched avidly across the country by Iraqis of all stripes -- united by their love of soccer.

The game was part of the Asian qualifier for the 2010 South Africa World Cup, and Iraq and China are part of Group 1, along with Australia and Qatar. The match was played in China.

The top two teams in the round advance to another stage of qualifying for the World Cup. Iraq eliminated China from competition and is in the running to advance.

Celebratory gunfire also rang out across Baghdad, and the Baghdad Operations Command put an urgent message on state TV asking people to be careful and avoid shooting to celebrate.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki issued congratulations to the team, which last year won the Asia Cup.

The bombing underscored the tensions that persist in a country where violence has dropped.

Twenty females have carried out suicide bombings in Iraq this year, many more than in previous years. According to the U.S. military, women carried out eight bombings in all of 2007.

Authorities said that al Qaeda in Iraq is recruiting women and that more women are offering themselves up for missions.

The officials said the women are desperate and hopeless, most have pre-existing ties to the insurgency, and their main motive is revenge for a male family member killed by U.S. or Iraqi forces in the war.

"We do see certain members of cells attempting to persuade women, specifically in many cases wives of those who have been killed as terrorists, to conduct suicide operations," U.S. Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling said recently. His area of operations includes Diyala province.

Hertling's troops have targeted families of suspected female bombers in a bid to break up the rings that are recruiting the women and girls.

Intelligence gathered from detainees indicates that al Qaeda in Iraq is looking for women who are illiterate, who are deeply religious or who have financial struggles, often because they've lost the male head of the household.

Women and girls always have played a role in the insurgency in Iraq, helping feed militants, hiding them in their homes and helping to sneak weapons around the country.

They have proved to be highly effective in their operations, because women are not searched by men for cultural and religious reasons.

The U.S. military has created a program called the Daughters of Iraq, analogous to the Sons of Iraq, across the Sunni regions of the country. The Daughters of Iraq are being trained to conduct searches of women.

CNN's Jomana Karadsheh and Arwa Damon contributed to this report.

All About IraqSuicide AttacksAl Qaeda in Iraq

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