Iraq violence kills more than 50

Iraq violence kills more than 50

Iraq violence kills more than 50

An Iraqi policeman (R) looks at a damaged vehicle after a car bomb attack in Baghdad. Violence in Iraq has reached a level not seen since 2008, when the country was emerging from a period of brutal sectarian killings. REUTERS photo

Suicide bombers and gunmen killed at least 54 people in Iraq Dec. 16, in attacks mostly targeting Shiites, who mark a big religious festival next week.

Al-Qaeda-linked militants have intensified attacks on the security forces, civilians and anyone seen as supporting the Shiite-led government in Baghdad, tipping Iraq back into its deadliest levels of violence in five years.

Violence in Iraq has reached a level not seen since 2008, when the country was emerging from a period of brutal sectarian killings, and has raised fears it is slipping back into all-out conflict.

In Baiji, 180 kilometers north of Baghdad, four men wearing explosive belts took over a police station after detonating a car bomb parked outside, police sources said. Two blew themselves up inside the station, killing five policemen. The other two did the same about an hour later as Iraqi special forces counter-attacked, the sources said, Reuters reported.

“We believe the attack was aimed at freeing detainees who are being held in the building next door,” said Major Salih al-Qaisi, a police officer at the scene. “All the militants were killed before they reached the police department building where the detainees are held.”

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but suicide bombings are the trademark of al-Qaeda’s Iraqi wing, which merged this year with its Syrian counterpart to form the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Two hours later, three suicide bombers seized the local council building in Tiqrit, 150 kilometers north of the capital, after setting off two car bombs outside, security sources said. At least three people were killed. Security forces surrounded the building, where the militants were thought to be holding hostages, and imposed a curfew on the city, the sources said.

A spate of car bombs and roadside bombs in mainly Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad also killed at least 27 people and wounded scores, police and medical sources said.

In Mosul, 390 kilometers north of Baghdad, militants in a car intercepted a bus carrying Shiite pilgrims to the shrine city of Karbala from the northern Shiite town of Tal Afar, and shot 12 of them dead, police said.

Security services have been on high alert since last week because they expect more attacks on Shiites before Iraq’s majority community marks the ritual of Arbaeen, commemorating the death of Imam Hussein, grandson of Prophet Mohammad.