Last updated: 22 March, 2014

Police officer killed in rare south Iraq attack

A police officer was killed in a relatively rare attack in the Iraqi port city of Basra Saturday, while security forces reopened a key highway after retaking a village from militants.

The latest bloodshed came a day after attacks across the country killed 33 people, with bombings and shootings largely targeting Sunni Arab-majority areas of northern and western Iraq, just weeks ahead of national parliamentary elections.

Violence in Iraq is at its highest level since 2008, with the unrest driven principally by anger in the Sunni minority, which alleges mistreatment at the hands of the Shiite-led authorities, as well as spillover from the civil war in neighbouring Syria.

In Basra, police Lieutenant Colonel Ihsan Maadhi was gunned down in front of his house in the centre of the southern city, police and medical sources said.

The shooting was a relatively rare incident of violence in Shiite-majority southern Iraq, which still suffers attacks but on a markedly lower scale than Baghdad and northern and western Iraq.

Elsewhere on Saturday, security forces reopened a key highway connecting Baghdad and the northern city of Kirkuk after retaking a village from anti-government fighters who held it for several hours a day earlier.

The clashes in the village of Sarha were part of nationwide violence that left 33 people dead, including coordinated late-night bombings against the home of a police major in the centre of Tikrit that killed four.

Attacks also struck elsewhere in Salaheddin province, as well as the restive northern provinces of Nineveh and Kirkuk and in the western desert province of Anbar.

More than 300 people have been killed so far this month and upwards of 2,000 since the beginning of the year, according to AFP figures based on reports from security and medical sources.

Analysts and diplomats have called for the Shiite-led authorities to do more to reach out to the disaffected Sunni minority in a bid to reduce support for militancy, but with elections looming on April 30, political leaders have been loath to be seen to compromise.