Last updated: 20 May, 2013

Car bombs kill at least 15 in Iraqi capital and south

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki announced an overhaul of Iraq’s security strategy Monday as a fresh surge of violence killed dozens of civilians and police officers, bringing the month’s toll to 366.

“We are about to make changes in the high and middle positions of those responsible for security, and the security strategy,” Maliki told journalists in Baghdad Monday. Cabinet would discuss the matter on Tuesday, he said.

“I assure the Iraqi people that they (militants) will not be able to return us to the sectarian conflict” that killed tens of thousands of people in Iraq in past years, he added.

Just hours after his statement, bombings during evening prayers at two Shiite mosques in Hilla, south of Baghdad, killed 13 people and wounded another 71, police and a doctor said.

One bomb exploded inside Al-Wardiyah mosque, while a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-rigged belt at Al-Graita mosque nearby. Dozens of mosques have been attacked in Iraq so far this year.

Earlier Monday, at around the time Maliki spoke, a car bomb exploded in Shaab, a Shiite area of north Baghdad, killing 12 people and wounding at least 20, officials said.

Two car bombs went off in the main southern port city of Basra, killing 13 people and wounding 48, while a wave of other bombings hit Baghdad, killing at least 11 people and wounding 102.

In Balad, north of the capital, a car bomb exploded near a bus carrying Iranian pilgrims, killing eight people and wounding another 15.

Monday’s killings brought the death toll from the last two days’ violence to 89 people including 24 police officers.

The United States condemned the attacks.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday the US was “deeply concerned by the frequency and the nature of recent attacks, including bombings today…”

US officials had contacted a wide range of Iraqi leaders “to urge calm and help resolve ongoing political and sectarian tensions”, he added.

Iraq is home to some of the holiest sites in Shiite Islam and is visited by hundreds of thousands of foreign pilgrims every year, most of them from neighbouring Iran.

Six Sahwa anti-Al-Qaeda fighters were also killed and 27 wounded in three separate attacks north of Baghdad.

The Sahwa are made up of Sunni Arab tribesmen who joined forces with the US military against Al-Qaeda from late 2006, helping to turn the tide against the insurgency.

And a car bomb killed one person and wounded four in Rutba, a town in Anbar province, west of Baghdad, while a roadside bomb in the northern city of Mosul wounded three people.

Monday’s violence comes after 24 police were killed overnight.

Police Lieutenant Colonel Majid al-Jlaybawi said police and soldiers carried out a joint raid to free kidnapped police officers in Anbar province, west of Baghdad, but clashes ensued.

Twelve kidnapped policemen were killed and four wounded, although it was not immediately clear if they were caught in crossfire, killed by their abductors, or a combination of the two.

Mohammed Hadi, one of the wounded policemen, told AFP they had been abducted on the highway between Baghdad and Jordan on Saturday.

In Haditha, a town in Anbar province, gunmen attacked a police station, killing eight police, among them two officers, officials said.

And gunmen killed four police and wounded three in an attack on another police station in the town of Rawa, also in Anbar.

Gunmen also killed a shop owner in Mosul on Sunday.

The security situation in Anbar, home to two of the main centres of Sunni anti-government protests that broke out almost five months ago, has deteriorated sharply.

Tensions are festering between the government of Maliki, a Shiite, and Sunnis who accuse authorities of marginalising and targeting their community, through wrongful detentions and accusations of involvement in terrorism.

The government has made some concessions aimed at placating the protesters and Iraqi Sunnis in general, freeing prisoners and raising the salaries of Sunni anti-Al-Qaeda fighters, but the underlying issues remain to be addressed.