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At least 12 killed in wave of Iraq attacks

Iraqi Shiites walk from Baghdad to Karbala to take part in the Arbaeen religious festival on December 31, 2012
An Iraqi Shiite pilgrim carries his child as he walks along the main highway that links Baghdad with the shrine city of Karbala on December 31, 2012, to take part in the Arbaeen religious festival.

A wave of bombings and shootings killed 12 people on Monday as Iraq grappled with anti-government protests and simmering political crises ahead of major Shiite Muslim commemoration rituals.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks in eight towns and cities that also wounded more than 40, but Sunni militants such as Al-Qaeda's front group in Iraq regularly target officials in a bid to destabilise the government, as well as Shiite pilgrims.

The violence comes after anti-government protesters blocked a key highway to Syria and Jordan, amid political tensions between Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and a secular Sunni-backed party in his fragile national unity government.

In the deadliest attack, seven people -- three women, two children and two men -- were killed when three houses were blown up in the town of Mussayib south of Baghdad, a local police officer and a medic said. Four others were wounded.

The victims were apparently targeted because they were Shiites, the officials said.

Their deaths come just days before Arbaeen commemorations marking 40 days after the Ashura anniversary commemorating the slaying of Imam Hussein, one of Shiite Islam's most revered figures, by the armies of the caliph Yazid in 680 AD.

A series of attacks in restive Diyala province, north of Baghdad, wounded 19 people, including 10 Shiite pilgrims who were on the traditional walk to the holy shrine city of Karbala to mark Arbaeen.

Iraqis inspect a building in the aftermath of a car bomb in the Hurriyah district of Baghdad, on November 28, 2012
Iraqi men inspect a building in the aftermath of a car bomb in the mainly Shiite Hurriyah neighbourhood of Baghdad, on November 28, 2012.

In the north, three policemen were killed and four critically wounded in the ethnically mixed city of Kirkuk when a bomb went off nearby as they were trying to defuse explosives, a police officer and a doctor at the city's hospital said.

Four separate bombings in Kirkuk city and nearby towns, three of them targeting police and soldiers, wounded four people.

Meanwhile, a car bomb parked outside government offices south of Baghdad as the provincial governor was arriving killed two people.

The blast in the city of Hilla also wounded 19 people, including a guard for the governor of Babil province and one of his photographers, a policeman and a medic said. The governor himself was unharmed.

The explosion also badly damaged shops and cars.

The latest attacks come amid prolonged anti-government demonstrations in mostly Sunni areas over the alleged targeting of their minority community by the Shiite-led government in Baghdad, sparked by the arrest of at least nine of Finance Minister Rafa al-Essawi's guards on terrorism charges.

Essawi, a senior member of the Iraqiya bloc that is part of Maliki's unity government but frequently criticises him in public, has called for the premier to resign, further heightening tensions between the two sides.

Violence in Iraq is down from its peak in 2006 and 2007, but attacks still occur almost every day across the country.

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