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Wednesday, 05 February 2014 01:28

Bombings kill at least 16 in Iraqi capital

   BAGHDAD (AP) — Multiple bombings rocked central Baghdad on Wednesday, striking mainly near the heavily fortified Green Zone where key government offices are located and killing at least 16 people, Iraqi officials said.
   The attacks were the latest in a relentless push by Sunni militants to undermine confidence in the Shiite-led government's efforts to maintain security in Iraq, two years after the pullout of American troops from the country.
   There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombings but such systematic and brazen attacks against government buildings, security forces and Shiites in general bear the hallmarks of al-Qaida's affiliate in Iraq. The terror group has become emboldened by the successes of its fellow militants in the civil war next door in Syria and by widespread Sunni anger at the government.
   The deadliest of Wednesday's attacks took place across the street from the Foreign Ministry building, when two parked car bombs went off simultaneously in two different parking lots. Those explosions killed at least seven people and wounded 15, a police officer said.
   Shortly afterward, a suicide bomber walked into a nearby falafel restaurant where he set off his explosives-laden belt, killing five people and wounding 12, the officer added. The restaurant and others around it are often used by officials or visitors waiting for security escorts to take them inside the Green Zone.
   Also Wednesday morning, a parked car bomb went off in Khilani Square in the Iraqi capital's commercial center, killing four people and wounding eight, another police officer said.
   Two medical officials confirmed the causality figures. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to talk to media.
   Iraq has seen resurgence in violence over the past year. According to U.N. figures, 2013 had the highest death toll since the worst of the country's sectarian bloodletting began to subside in 2007. The U.N. said violence killed 8,868 last year.
   Al-Qaida's affiliate in Iraq has in the past staged spectacular attacks on Iraqi government ministries such as in August 2009, when suicide bombers hit the Finance Ministry and the Foreign Ministry ministries, killing more than 100 people. The bombings were quickly claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq, as the group was known at the time.
Published in National News
   BAGHDAD (AP) - Authorities say a bomb blast at a funeral north of Iraq's capital has killed at least 16 people, the deadliest of a series of attacks that have killed at least 37.
   The funeral attack happened Wednesday in the town of Buhriz, about 60 kilometers (35 miles) north of Baghdad. Police say 16 people were killed in that blast inside a mourning tent, while at least 26 were wounded.
   Two medical officials confirmed the casualty figures. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release information.
   Iraq remains gripped by violence as al-Qaida-linked militants took control of two cities in Anbar province, west of Baghdad. A series of bombings in the capital Wednesday killed at least 21 people.
 
Published in National News

   BAGHDAD (AP) — The wave of attacks by al-Qaida-led Sunni extremists that has killed thousands of Iraqis this year, most of them Shiites, is provoking ominous calls from Shiite leaders to take up arms in self-defense.

   They generally insist they'll do it legally, under the banner of the security forces. But Iraq's young democracy is still struggling, nearly two years after U.S. troops withdrew, and the specter of armed Shiite and Sunni camps revives memories of the sectarian fighting that took the country to the brink of civil war in the mid-2000s.

   Since April, bombings and shootings have killed more than 5,500 people. Averaging at least two a week, they target outdoor markets, cafes, bus stations, mosques and pilgrimages in Shiite areas.

   Iraq's Shiite prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, who will meet with President Barack Obama on Friday, says he wants American help in quelling the violence.

   Departing for Washington, he appealed for quicker delivery of offensive weapons such as helicopters that Baghdad says it needs.

   Since late December, Iraq's minority Sunnis have been protesting what they perceive as discrimination and tough anti-terrorism measures against them by the Shiite-led government. The Sunni attacks followed a government crackdown on a Sunni protest camp in the northern town of Hawija in which 44 civilians and one member of the security forces dead, according to U.N. estimates.

   Now high-profile calls are being made for Shiites to play a role in their own defense by creating armed "popular committees," attached in some form to the regular security forces. The idea raises the specter of some of Iraq's darkest years following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein's Sunni-led regime, paving the way for long-repressed majority Shiites to seize power.

   Iranian-backed Shiite death squads roamed the city from 2006-2008, killing Sunnis by the dozens and dumping their often mutilated bodies on the streets or in the river in retaliation for the devastating bombings and suicide attacks blamed on Sunni insurgents.

   It was a cease-fire by militia leader and anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, along with a Sunni revolt against al-Qaida in Iraq and a series of U.S.-Iraqi offensives that helped quell the bloodshed. While Iraqis continued to face near-daily attacks, they hoped the days of rampant sectarian warfare were behind them. Now a politician, Al-Sadr has urged calm among his followers and made no public statements about the calls to take up arms to protect Shiites.

   Zuhair al-Araji, a Sunni lawmaker, pointed out that the insurgents are targeting not only Shiites but moderate Sunnis, and that arming Shiite groups would backfire. "We are worried that some militias will infiltrate these proposed committees and we will see grave consequences," he said.

   But Jassim Mohammed al-Fartousi, whose 24 year old son was among some 80 people killed in a suicide attack Sept. 21, reflects growing public demand for a response.

   "The government and the security forces are incompetent," he said. "The popular committees will make us feel safe."

   The civil war in neighboring Syria is also stoking the tensions as it takes on increasingly sectarian undertones, with many Shiites traveling to the country to support President Bashar Assad's government against mainly Sunni rebels.

   Qais al-Khazali heads a feared Shiite militia, Asaib Ahl al-Haq (Band of the Righteous), an Iranian-backed group that repeatedly attacked U.S. forces in Iraq and says it is sending fighters to Syria to support government forces against Sunni-led rebels. He spent years in U.S. detention but was released after he was handed over to the Iraqi government.

   Last year, the group decided to lay down its weapons and join the Iraqi political process, a move welcomed by al-Maliki. But addressing a conference of tribal leaders and clerics on Oct. 9, al-Khazali said his group needed to react to the "killings and destruction."

   He said his "committees" would not participate in raids, but would cooperate with security forces in "patrolling their areas and setting up roadblocks."

   Still, the security forces are supposed to be nonsectarian, and the suggestion of a Shiite militia in league with a Shiite prime minister's security forces is sure to heighten Sunni distrust.

   Ali al-Moussawi, al-Maliki's spokesman, sounded lukewarm to the idea, saying the security forces "do not need armed committees; they need help with intelligence."

   The law bans the formation of armed groups outside the state security forces, but the government made an exception for the Sunni militia formed by U.S. forces to fight al-Qaida.

   Also calling for Shiite self-defense measures are Shiite lawmakers, one of them affiliated with Al-Maliki's parliamentary bloc, and some clerics connected to parties with militant wings.

   Earlier this year, Wathiq al-Batat, a Shiite cleric who was a senior official in the Hezbollah Brigades in Iraq, formed what he calls the Mukhtar Army to protect Shiites. He claims to have more than 1 million members, a number that has not independently verified.

   In an interview with the Beirut-based Iraqi satellite channel al-Sumaria last week, he said his militia was "well-intentioned" and wouldn't attack Sunnis as such, only "takfiri" groups, a term applied to Sunni radicals.

   Al-Batat demanded that in order to be within the law, some of his followers should be integrated into the Defense or Interior Ministries to work with the security forces.

   Despite some attacks on Sunni mosques following Sunni actions, Shiite reprisals are far less intense than they were in the tit-for-tat bloodshed of 2006-2007, when Sunnis would be snatched off the streets and killed and many families were driven from their homes.

   But that may change if the "popular committees" come into being, some warn.

   Hadi Jalo, a political analyst in Baghdad, said the government "could implicitly give the green light to some armed groups to help the security forces struggling to put an end to violence and to ease the pressure from the public."

   Shwan Mohammed Taha, a Kurd who serves on the parliament's defense and security committee, warned such a move could prove a turning point.

   "The atmosphere is already tense and such move will lead to the militarization of society and then to all-out civil war," he said.

Published in National News

   BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraqi officials say a wave of bombings in Shiite Muslim areas in and around the capital Baghdad has left at least 51 people dead and wounded dozens.

   Four police officers say Wednesday's attacks by explosives-laden cars, bombs and suicide bombers targeted parking lots, outdoor markets and restaurants in six of Baghdad's predominantly Shiite neighborhoods.

   The areas hit included the neighborhoods of Kazimiyah, Sadr City, Shaab, Shula, Jamila and Mahmoudiyah.

   Four medical officials confirmed the casualty figures. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release information.

   The attacks are part of a wave of killing that is the country's worst spate of bloodshed since 2008. More than 3,000 people have died in recent months.

Published in National News
Sunday, 16 June 2013 07:30

32 dead in latest wave of Iraq attacks

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) — Officials say nearly a dozen apparently coordinated car bombs and a shooting across Iraq have killed at least 32 and wounded scores.

Officials say the car bombs targeting Shiite-majority areas were the cause of most of the casualties. The shooting happened near the northern city of Mosul when gunmen attacked police guarding a remote stretch of an oil pipeline.

Violence has spiked sharply in Iraq in recent months, with the death toll rising to levels not seen since 2008. Nearly 2,000 have been killed since the start of April.

The extended wave of attacks is raising fears of a return to widespread sectarian killing a decade after the U.S.-led invasion.

Published in National News

   BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraqi officials say at least 14 people have been killed in clashes between Sunni protesters and security forces in a northern Sunni town.

   Sheikh Abdullah Sami al-Asi, a Sunni provincial official from the town of Hawija, says the fighting began early on Tuesday morning when security forces entered the protest area in the town and tried to make arrests.

   Provincial health director Sidiq Omar Rasool says there are at least 14 protesters killed. He says the clashes also wounded more than 50 demonstrators and six members of Iraqi security forces.

   Hawija is 240 kilometers (160 miles) north of Baghdad.

   A United Nations spokeswoman in Iraq, Eliana Nabaa, confirmed that there are multiple casualties. She urged both sides to immediately lay down their weapons.

Published in National News

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