Suicide bomber kills 23 Iraqi army recruits in Baghdad
Atttack comes day after prime minister pledged to eradicate al-Qaeda
Iraqi soldiers man a checkpoint in western Baghdad yesterday, Photograph: Ahmed Saad/Reuters
A suicide bomber killed 23 Iraqi army recruits and wounded 36 in Baghdad today, officials said, in an attack on men volunteering to join the government’s struggle to crush al-Qaeda-linked militants in Anbar province.
A security spokesman said the bomber blew himself up among the recruits at the small Muthanna airfield, used by the army in the capital.
He put the death toll at 22 but health ministry officials said morgue records showed 23 had died. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, which occurred a day after prime minister Nuri al-Maliki said he would eradicate the “evil” of al-Qaeda and its allies.
Fighters from the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which is also at the forefront of Syria’s civil war, last week seized control of Falluja and parts of Ramadi, capital of Iraq’s western Anbar province.
The Shia-led government has asked for volunteers to join the military effort against al Qaeda, which has regained strength in Sunni-dominated areas such as Anbar partly by exploiting widespread Sunni resentment over Mr Maliki’s policies.
Bloodshed in Iraq has returned to its highest level in five years, with the United Nations reporting 8,868 people killed in 2013 - a surge of violence partly fuelled by the war that began in Syria some months before US forces ended their nine-year occupation of Iraq in 2011.
Also today, a suicide car bomber attacked a checkpoint in eastern Ramadi, killing three special forces soldiers and wounding four, police and medical sources said. A sniper killed two more members of the special forces in Buhriz, north of Baghdad, according to security officials. And a car bomb exploded near a health department building in Tikrit, the hometown of deposed Sunni leader Saddam Hussein. An ambulance driver was killed and five other people wounded.
Residents in Falluja reported a calmer day after some overnight mortar fire. Militants were keeping a low profile. Troops on the outskirts made no attempt to enter the city, many of whose 300,000 residents fled after clashes last week. But it is not clear whether a deal reached between Mr Maliki’s government and Sunni tribal leaders, under which the militants would withdraw and the army would stay outside Falluja, can end the struggle for the city 70 km west of Baghdad. “We don’t want this city to suffer and we will not use force, as long as the tribes announce their readiness to confront al Qaeda and expel it,” Mr Maliki said yesterday. The violence has alarmed Western governments and pointed up the links between Sunni militants in Iraq and Syria, but Iraq’s oil industry and its foreign investors see no cause for panic, given that main oil fields are far from Anbar.
Thousands of civilians streamed out of Falluja after ISIL and allied Sunni tribesmen overran police stations 10 days ago, but a few have returned in hopes that negotiations will avert a full-scale army assault on a city that endured two devastating US offensives against Sunni insurgents there in 2004.
According to the United Nations, more than 11,000 families have fled their homes in Anbar province. UN agencies delivered the first relief supplies to the displaced people yesterday. “It is essential to meet the urgent humanitarian needs of the people in Anbar province, particularly those in Falluja and surrounding areas,” Nikolay Mladenov, the UN envoy to Iraq, said in a statement today.