10 policemen among 33 killed in Iraq suicide attacks

Thu, Mar 4, 2010, 00:00

THREE SUICIDE bombers killed 33 people and injured 55 yesterday in the city of Baqouba, 60km northeast of Baghdad. Two devices targeted a government housing office near an army post and the provincial council headquarters. The third was detonated by a man in an explosive vest riding in an ambulance carrying wounded to hospital. A fourth bomb was located and defused near the hospital. Ten policemen were among the dead.

The bombings were clearly intended to create an atmos- phere of insecurity and fear ahead of Sunday’s election for the country’s national parliament.

They were the most deadly attacks since early February, when a female bomber killed 54 Shia pil- grims en route to religious ceremonies in Karbala.

Each and every incident undermines prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, who claims to have tamed sectarian militias, ended the insurgency and curbed al-Qaeda.

Many Iraqis now believe bombers operate freely against civilian and governmental targets. More than 400 people have died in co-ordinated bombings since last August.

Baqouba, a mixed Sunni-Shia city, was a stronghold of the insurgency in Dyala province. Al-Qaeda still strikes there occasionally and the Kurds are squabbling with the central government over Qanaqin, an oil-rich area on the border with the Kurdish autonomous region.

To complicate matters further, police and troops deployed in Dyala are mainly Shia, while the provincial council elected last year is Sunni.

In recent weeks, warrants have been issued by Baghdad for the arrest of several council members accused of having links to Sunni guerrilla groups.

The councillors have gone into hiding, but Mr Maliki’s move has given rise to suspicions that he is trying to weaken parties that might take votes from the “State of Law” coalition he had hoped would attract the support of Sunnis and Shias alike.

The Baghdad government has put in place heavy security mea- sures ahead of polling day. A four-day public holiday has been proclaimed from today, movement from province to province has been restricted, curfews have been imposed in certain localities, and airports will shut down while Iraqis vote.

Thousands of police and troops are on duty. The authorities’ aim is to prevent al-Qaeda in Iraq, headed by Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, from carrying out a threat to disrupt the election by “military means”.