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03 December 2023

Six bomb blasts in Baghdad kill 33

Iraqi security forces take position with their weapons during clashes with Al Qaeda-linked Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the city of Ramadi, 100 km (62 miles) west of Baghdad. (REUTERS)


Bombings in Baghdad, including three near the heavily-fortified Green Zone and the foreign ministry, killed 33 people Wednesday, the latest in Iraq's worst surge of violence in nearly six years.

The attacks, which wounded dozens more, came as security forces battle militants in the western province of Anbar, including the state of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a powerful jihadist group that has exploited the chaos in neighbouring Syria.

With violence at its highest level since 2008, diplomats have urged the government to reach out to sectors in order to undercut support for militancy, but Prime Minister Nuri  Al Maliki has taken a hard line ahead of April's parliamentary elections.

Wednesday's deadliest bombings, which included at least one suicide attack, struck during morning rush hour, ripping through confessionally-mixed areas of the capital bordering the Green Zone, home to parliament, the prime minister's residence and the US and British embassies.

The three explosions killed 25 people and wounded another 35, security officials and a medical source said.

One attack was just opposite the foreign ministry, but accounts differed as to what caused the explosion. Two security officials said the blast was caused by a car bomb, but witnesses said a suicide bomber was responsible.

The area surrounding the ministry has been hit by explosions in the past, notably in August 2009, when a massive truck bomb devastated the building, and again ahead of an Arab summit in Baghdad in 2012.

A suicide bomber also hit a restaurant, and a vehicle rigged with explosives was detonated in a market for car spare parts, both close to the Green Zone.

Blood and pieces of flesh littered the scene at the restaurant, and soldiers said one of their comrades had wrapped his arms around the bomber in a bid to save others.

Later in the afternoon, three car bombs in southeast Baghdad killed eight people and left 32 more wounded, while a rocket attack on Haifa street in the centre of the capital wounded five.

The day's toll could have been higher still, but security forces found a roadside bomb near the oil ministry in central Baghdad and carried out a controlled explosion.

More than 1,000 people were killed last month, according to government data, as security forces have struggled to curb bombings and battle jihadists and other anti-government fighters who have seized territory in Anbar.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the latest attacks, but Sunni militant groups, including ISIL, have taken credit in the past for coordinated bombing campaigns in Baghdad.

Troops make slow progress in Anbar

ISIL has also been fighting security forces in Anbar, a mostly Sunni desert region bordering Syria where, for weeks, militants have held parts of Ramadi and all of Fallujah, which lies on Baghdad's doorstep.

Along with ISIL, other militant groups and anti-government tribes have fought forces loyal to the central government.

Security forces and pro-government tribal fighters have made slow progress in Ramadi after days of heavy clashes, and late Tuesday had retaken several neighbourhoods from militants, according to officers and an AFP journalist.

Families will be allowed to return to their homes within days, a general leading the operation said, after security forces check the areas for booby-traps and bombs.

In Fallujah, however, security forces have largely stayed out of the city in recent weeks fearing major incursions could ignite a drawn-out campaign with high civilian casualties and heavy damage to property.

The city was a bastion of the Sunni insurgency following the 2003 US-led invasion, and American troops there fought some of the costliest battles since the Vietnam War.

Ahmed Abu Risha, a prominent tribal leader in the Sunni Awakening movement, which allied with US troops against Al Qaeda and now supports the government, said an attack on the city was imminent and urged anti-government fighters to lay down their arms.

Witnesses and a journalist in Fallujah said several different neighbourhoods were targeted by shelling late Tuesday.

The stand-off in Anbar has prompted more than 140,000 people to flee their homes, the UN refugee agency said, describing it as the worst displacement in Iraq since the peak of the sectarian fighting.