/ 21 May 2009

Dozens killed as violence spikes in Iraq

Iraq was on Thursday engulfed by a wave of violence, with suicide and bomb attacks killing 23 people a day after a massive bomb devastated a Baghdad Shi’ite neighbourhood, slaughtering 40 civilians.

The main target of Thursday’s attacks was Baghdad, where a suicide bomber detonated his explosives in a crowded market in the southern Dora neighbourhood, killing at least 12 people and wounding 25, security officials said.

The bomber targeted a United States patrol that was passing through a popular Assyrian market in the confessionally mixed neighbourhood, officials from the Interior and Defence Ministry said.

The market attack came soon after a bomb exploded in a rubbish bin inside a Baghdad police station, killing three policemen and injuring 20, among then 12 officers and eight civilians, officials said

The day began on a bloody note when a suicide bomber killed eight members of an anti-al-Qaeda militia early in the morning in the tense northern city of Kirkuk as they were lining up to receive their salaries, police said.

The attacks in two of Iraq’s largest urban centres come as the US military prepares to decamp from the nation’s cities and towns by June 30 and ahead of a complete withdrawal by the end of 2011.

The bloodletting has sparked fears of a return of al-Qaeda-style attacks aimed at reigniting the sectarianism that swept the country two years ago.

Iraqi Vice-President Tarek al-Hashemi, a Sunni Arab, on Thursday called for national unity in the wake of the violence.

”The evil and criminal powers are back once again to continue their criminal actions against our patient people,” he said in a statement.

”We call upon our people to unite, to not give in to the enemies of Iraq who are trying to undermine our unity.”

The bombing in Kirkuk occurred inside a building under the control of the Iraqi army, where anti-al-Qaeda fighters, known as Sahwa, or Awakening, had gathered to receive the pay cheques, police Major Salam Zangana said.

”A suicide bomber dressed in a Sahwa uniform blew himself up at a Sahwa gathering near Kirkuk’s technical college. They were waiting to receive their salaries,” he said.

Thursday’s attacks follow a huge car bomb blast in a Shi’ite neighbourhood in Baghdad on Wednesday evening that killed at least 40 people and injured 83.

Diners and shoppers were enjoying a night out at the al-Sadrain interchange that is popular for its eateries and shops when the powerful bomb went off.

The blast in Shula, a poor Shi’ite neighbourhood in north-western Baghdad, marked the bloodiest attack since April 29 when more than 50 people — also in mostly Shi’ite districts of the capital — were killed in a wave of synchronised bombings.

No one has claimed responsibility for the latest wave of bombings but al-Qaeda insurgents regularly target civilians and also try to kill Sahwa members, whom it brands traitors, especially in ethnically mixed parts of Iraq such as Kirkuk.

Despite a surge in violence last month, Iraq has insisted that the US pull-out timetable outlined in a landmark security pact signed with Washington in November will not be affected. — AFP