BAGHDAD (Reuters) - At least 13 people were killed and 15 wounded when a suicide bomber detonated a car in Iraq's central city of Tikrit on Monday, the second attack in three days in the hometown of the late Saddam Hussein, officials said.
The bomber blew up the explosives-filled sedan car at the entrance to a complex of palaces used by the former Iraqi dictator before the U.S.-led invasion of 2003.
The blast took place as Iraqi military officers were supervising the handover of checkpoint security from the army to the police. It destroyed several cars and left others ablaze among debris and mutilated bodies.
Although overall levels of violence have fallen since the peak of Iraq's 2006-2007 sectarian conflict, attacks on police and soldiers have increased as the year-end deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops approaches.
Security concerns are high on the agenda as Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's fragile cross-sectarian coalition faces growing popular discontent over its performance.
"Although it is not the final death toll, what we have so far is 13 people killed, including nine military personnel, and 19 wounded," Hassan Abdulla, media advisor to the head of the local provincial council, told Reuters.
Abdulla said the dead included a colonel who was the head of military intelligence in Tikrit, 150 km (95 miles) north of Baghdad.
"There was smoke everywhere ... I saw bodies everywhere. It was terrifying. The colonel's body was there," Yasser Dahar, a soldier who was a member of the colonel's security detail, told Reuters. He said he survived because he had briefly left the immediate scene to fetch a notebook from the colonel's car.
On Friday, at least 21 people were killed and 70 wounded in two apparently coordinated bombings in Tikrit.
In March, at least 53 people were killed when gunmen took hostages at the provincial council headquarters. In January, a suicide bombing in Tikrit killed up to 60 police recruits.
Tikrit is dominated by Sunni Muslims, a minority in Iraq who were favored under Saddam. Suspected Sunni Islamists, including al Qaeda, have carried out frequent attacks in the town and surrounding Salahuddin province, trying to destabilize the Shi'ite-dominated government and stir up sectarian tension.
Around 47,000 U.S. troops still in Iraq are due to leave by the end of 2011 under a bilateral security pact. Maliki's government must decide in the coming weeks whether to ask Washington to keep some of them in place.
U.S. officials and Iraqi military commanders have said some kind of U.S. military presence is necessary to ensure Iraq's security needs, especially in an advisory and training role.
(Reporting by Khalid al-Ansary, Waleed Ibrahim and Suadad al-Salhy; Writing by Pascal Fletcher; Editing by Lin Noueihed)