Series of car bombs kills 19 in western Iraq

A spate of car bombings killed 19 people Sunday in Iraq's western Anbar province, once a hotbed of insurgency that later become a showcase for restoring peace.

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BAGHDAD // A spate of car bombings killed 19 people Sunday in Iraq's western Anbar province, once a hotbed of insurgency that later become a showcase for restoring peace. The province was the scene of some of the most intense fighting by US troops during the insurgency. Violence tapered off significantly after local tribes decided to align themselves with US forces instead of al Qa'eda in what is widely considered to be one of the key turning points of the Iraq war. A reinvigorated insurgency in Anbar would pose a grave danger to Iraq's fragile stability as it prepares for crucial parliamentary elections early next year.

The explosions Sunday occurred in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province about 115 kilometre west of Baghdad. According to a local police official, a parked car first exploded near the Anbar province police headquarters and the provincial council building. The second car bombing took place as police and bystanders rushed to the scene to help, while a third car exploded about an hour later at the gates to the Ramadi hospital, the police official said.

Police and hospital officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to the media. One bystander, Musaab Ali Mohammed, said he was buying cigarettes from a nearby shop when he heard a big explosion and saw smoke billowing out from the car park. "I saw police cars and firefighters, and they started to carry out the wounded and dead. ... Minutes later, a second explosion took place," he said. Such explosions coming in quick succession are usually designed to target rescuers and security forces who rush to the scene to assist and were a hallmark of the insurgent group, al Qa'eda in Iraq, during the height of the insurgency.

Sunday's attacks follow a bombing last week in another Anbar city, Fallujah, in which a car bomb tore through an open-air market, killing at least eight people. At least seven people were killed in late September in Ramadi when a suicide bomber slammed a tanker lorry packed with explosives into a police outpost. Iraqi officials have portrayed such attacks as limited in nature and not an indication that the insurgency is regaining its footing.

A member of the Anbar provincial council, Aeefan Sadoun, told the Associated Press that Sunday's attacks "represent a limited security breach that will be fixed soon." He said the attacks do not indicate a significant deterioration in security in the once-volatile province. "The security situation in Anbar is good and al Qa'eda will never be able to take over again," he said. But such attacks may increase in the run-up to the elections expected this January, said Michael Hanna, an analyst with the New York-based Century Foundation, especially because Iraqi Prime Minster Nouri al Maliki's popularity has resulted largely from the country's relative stability.

"There's still an insurgency. They are able to pull these things off," he said. "There's a very clear political motivation for insurgents to carry out violent attacks, to try to undermine the government ... ahead of what are important elections." However, Hanna said while the recent attacks are troubling, they haven't risen to the level seen during the insurgency's height, an indication that the insurgency does not have the same capability as it once did.

* AP