BAGHDAD, Iraq - A suicide bomber attacked Iraqis applying for jobs as policemen Tuesday, killing nine and wounding 21, and U.S. officials said a top deputy of the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq was killed over the weekend.
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer visited Baghdad to review the alliance's training mission for the Iraqi military. The unannounced visit was de Hoop Scheffer's second trip to Iraq. He was accompanied by the alliance's supreme commander for operations, U.S. Gen. James L. Jones.
NATO has been training a small group of senior Iraqi military officers and is planning to expand that mission to include higher ranks of Iraq's armed forces.
The blast occurred in Baqouba, 30 miles north of Baghdad, said the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of concerns about his security. A man wearing explosives under his clothes blew himself up in a building where Iraqis were applying to join the country's Quick Reaction Police Force.
Adhid Mita'ab, an official in Baqouba General Hospital, said nine Iraqis were killed and 21 wounded. The commander confirmed those figures. That raised to at least 61 the number of people killed in the past three days in Iraq, less than a month before a national referendum on Iraq's draft constitution.
Politicians and insurgents in Iraq's Arab Sunni minority have urged Iraqis to boycott the referendum or vote "no." They believe a charter will fracture the country and seal the domination of the Shiite majority.
On Monday, American and Iraqi officials tried to rally Sunni support for the referendum by releasing 500 detainees from the notorious Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad to mark the coming Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
But if two-thirds of voters in any three of Iraq's 18 provinces reject the charter, a new government must be formed and the process of writing a constitution starts over.
On Monday, insurgents dragged five Shiite Muslim schoolteachers and their driver into a classroom, lined them against a wall and gunned them down.
The slayings in Iraq's notorious Triangle of Death south of Baghdad reflected the enflamed sectarian divisions ahead of the referendum. The shooting was a rare attack on a school amid Iraq's relentless violence, and it was particularly stunning since the gunmen targeted teachers in a school where the children were mainly Sunnis.
Also Monday, a suicide attack and roadside bombings killed 10 Iraqis and three American soldiers.
In Washington, U.S. defense officials said that Abdullah Abu Azzam, a leading deputy to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al-Qaida's leader in Iraq, was killed this weekend. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the information.
The U.S. military on Tuesday said U.S. and Iraqi forces, acting on a tip, raided a high-rise apartment building in Baghdad where Abu Azzam was located early Sunday.
"They went in to capture him, he did not surrender and he was killed in the raid," Lt. Col. Steve Boylan, a U.S. military spokesman, told The Associated Press.
Earlier this month, al-Zarqawi declared "all-out war" on Shiites and vowed to kill anyone participating in the referendum.
In north Iraq, a top aide to al-Zarqawi surrendered to police in the city of Mosul, Iraqi army Brig. Gen. Ali Attalah said Monday. The aide, Abdul Rahman Hasan Shahin, was one of the most wanted figures in Mosul, Attalah said.
During his visit to Iraq, De Hoop Scheffer hoisted a NATO flag over the alliance's training mission headquarters in Baghdad on Tuesday and said the mission sent an important message.
"It is important of course for political reasons, NATO as an alliance of individual nations, reaffirming their commitments to Iraq," he said.
The NATO training mission has 165 alliance personnel in Iraq and aims to turn out 900 Iraqi officers a year. Although it is dwarfed by the U.S.-led coalition efforts to forge new Iraqi forces, alliance commanders stress the importance of their mission to train senior commanders.
"This is important because in this way it is possible to change the mentality of the Iraqi personnel," said Maj. Gen. Pier Giorgio Segala, the Italian deputy commander of the NATO mission.
Political opposition led by France and Germany has prevented the alliance from taking a wider role in Iraq and from helping equip Iraqi forces with tanks and other military hardware.
Sixteen of the 26 NATO nations are participating in the mission in Iraq. Others are providing funding or are training Iraqis outside the country.