/ 3 March 2008

More than 20 killed in Iraq violence

At least 23 people were killed in bomb attacks and shootings around Iraq on Monday as United States troops announced the discovery of a mass grave with the bodies of 14 men bound and shot in the head.

The deadliest attacks were in Baghdad, where at least 19 people were killed in two car bombings, while an Iraqi police chief was killed in an ambush in the southern port city of Basra.

Government figures issued on Saturday showed that the total number of Iraqis killed in February was up by 33% over the previous month, reversing six months of falling death tolls.

In the bloodiest attack on Monday, at least 15 people were killed and 45 wounded when a car bomb exploded near a Labour Ministry building in a commercial area of Baghdad’s Bab al-Muazam neighbourhood, a security official said.

The injured included ministry employees and students from the nearby Baghdad University, the official said.

The attack came just hours after a car bomb hit an Iraqi army checkpoint at Maisaloon Square in eastern Baghdad, killing four people and damaging three nearby houses, security and medical officials said.

At least 12 people were injured.

In the restive southern port city of Basra, gunmen ambushed a top Iraqi provincial police chief’s convoy and shot him and his three bodyguards dead, police said.

Colonel Qassim Obeid, the inspector general of Dhi Qar provincial police, was ambushed in central Basra’s al-Aswad street by gunmen who riddled his convoy with bullets, Basra police spokesperson Colonel Karim al-Zaidi said.

Obeid was recently transferred to a different province, and was in Basra for a handover to his successor, Zaidi said.

Separately, the US military announced that soldiers had found the bodies of 14 men with their hands tied behind their backs and shot in the head in a mass grave in the restive central town of Samarra.

“Coalition forces believe al-Qaeda Iraq is responsible for these murders,” the military said in a statement.

It said the victims are believed to have been members of Iraqi security forces or “Sons of Iraq”, the term it uses to describe Sunni Arabs who have allied with US-led forces to fight al-Qaeda militants.

The statement said the grave was uncovered on Sunday, but did not say how long the bodies may have been there.

Government figures issued on Saturday showed that 721 people were killed in attacks in February, including 636 civilians, compared with a total of 541 in January.

The US military had attributed a drop in violence during the six months to January to a surge in US troop numbers, the formation among Sunni tribes of anti-al-Qaeda fronts and Shi’ite radical leader Moqtada al-Sadr’s freezing of the activities of his Mahdi Army militia. — AFP