BAGHDAD // Two separate car bomb explosions targeted Sunday morning commuters in Baghdad, killing at least 13 civilians, officials said, amid an continuing standoff between Iraqi forces and Al Qaida-linked militants west of the Iraqi capital.
The blasts came a day after a senior American official wrapped up a three-day visit to Iraq to meet top political leaders to discuss the security crisis in the vast Sunni-dominated western province of Anbar.
The deadliest blast occurred at a bustling bus station in central Baghdad when an explosives-laden car exploded outside the station in the Allawi area, killing at least nine people and wounding 16, a police officer said. Thousands of people use the bus station every day or pass through the area. Last Thursday, a suicide bomber blew himself up among a group of security force recruits nearby, killing nearly two dozen.
Another parked car bomb targeted a gathering of buses and taxis in Baghdad’s northern Hurriyah neighbourhood, killing four civilians and wounding 12 others, the same police officer said.
The attacks come as Iraqi security forces and allied Sunni tribal militias have been battling Al Qaida-linked militants in Anbar to recapture strategic territory overrun by militants from the local Al Qaeda franchise, known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.
Iraqi forces have yet to militarily try to reassert control over Fallujah, which remains in the hands of the militants and tribal gunmen opposed to the central government. Militants and tribal fighters also control part of the provincial capital, Ramadi. Sporadic clashes there and in surrounding areas continue to take place.
Thousands of families have left the area, fearing a government offensive. Clashes between militants and security forces have left at least 60 people dead since violence erupted after the December 28 arrest of a Sunni lawmaker sought on terrorism charges and the dismantling of an anti-government Sunni protest camp in Ramadi.
The extremist militants, emboldened by fellow fighters’ gains in the civil war in neighbouring Syria, have tried to position themselves as the champions of Iraqi Sunnis angry at the Shiite-led government over what they see as efforts to marginalise them.
At least 60 people have been killed since violence erupted in the western province after the December 28 arrest of a Sunni lawmaker sought on terrorism charges and the dismantling of an anti-government Sunni protest camp in Ramadi. The head of Anbar’s Health Directorate, Khudeir Shalal, said Saturday that 43 people were killed in the city of Ramadi and other 17 were killed in Fallujah. He added a total of 297 people were wounded in both cities.
In a sign of American concern over the situation in Anbar, the deputy assistant secretary for near eastern affairs, Brett McGurk, wrapped up a three-day visit to Iraq to meet prime minister Nouri Al Maliki and other top Iraqi political leaders, as well as tribal leaders from Anbar, to discuss the security situation.
In a statement, the US embassy to Baghdad said that Mr McGurk emphasised that the US “will provide all necessary and appropriate assistance to the Government of Iraq ... under the Strategic Framework Agreement to help ensure that these efforts succeed.”
Washington has ruled out sending American troops back in but recently delivered dozens of Hellfire missiles to help bolster Iraqi forces. It has promised to send more missiles as well as surveillance drones.
Other senior American officials have reached out to top Iraqi leaders too, with vice president Joe Biden speaking to Mr Al Maliki twice last week alone.
Political tensions and violence has escalated in Iraq over the past year. Last year, the country saw the highest death told since the worst of the country’s sectarian bloodletting began to subside in 2007, according to United Nations figures. The UN said violence killed 8,868 last year.
* Associated Press