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Saturday, June 07, 2014

Baghdad car bombs kill 60; militants storm Ramadi university

Baghdad car bombs kill 60; militants storm Ramadi university Sat, Jun 07 16:55 PM EDT By Kareem Raheem and Kamal Naama BAGHDAD/RAMADI Iraq (Reuters) - A wave of car bombs exploded across Baghdad on Saturday, killing more than 60 people, and militants stormed a university campus in western Iraq, security and medical sources said. In total, there were a dozen blasts in mainly Shi'ite districts of the capital, the deadliest of which occurred in Bayaa, where a car bomb left 23 people dead, many of them young men playing billiards. "I was about to close my shop when I heard a huge explosion on the main commercial street," said Kareem Abdulla, whose legs were still shaking from the shock. "I saw many cars set ablaze as well as shops". Other bombs went off near a cinema, a popular juice shop and a Shi'ite mosque. No group immediately claimed responsibility for any of the bombings, but the Shi'ite community is a frequent target for Sunni Islamist insurgents who have been regaining ground and momentum in Iraq over the past year. Since Thursday alone, militants have seized parts of Ramadi and Falluja, the two main cities in the mainly Sunni Anbar province. On Saturday, they took control of the campus of Anbar University in Ramadi. A member of the security and defense committee in parliament said the insurgency could not be quelled by force alone because the root cause was political. Critics of Iraq's Shi'ite-led government say its treatment of the once-dominant Sunni minority is the main driver of the insurgency. "SECURITY WILL GET WORSE" "The Iraqi government now relies on using force to solve things, that is why security will get worse," said Shwan Mohammed Taha, predicting that violence could spread to other Sunni-dominated provinces such as Diyala. "This is not only deterioration, it is a failure to manage the security file." Parts of Ramadi have been held by anti-government tribesmen and insurgents since the start of the year. Overnight, gunmen fought their way past guards into the university, planting bombs behind them. The militants eventually allowed students and teaching staff to leave, but remained in control of the campus late on Saturday, exchanging fire with security forces. A professor trapped inside the physics department told Reuters some staff who live outside Ramadi had been spending the night at the university because it was the exam period. "We heard intense gunfire at about 4 a.m. We thought it was the security forces coming to protect us but were surprised to see they were gunmen," he told Reuters by telephone. "They forced us to go inside the rooms, and now we cannot leave." Sources in Ramadi hospital said they had received the bodies of a student and a policeman. The identity of the assailants was not clear. Ramadi and Falluja were overrun at the start of the year by tribal and Sunni insurgents, including the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). SUPPLY LINES Security forces have regained control of central Ramadi, but the suburbs and outlying areas have swung back and forth between them and the militants. Falluja, around 50 km (30 miles) away, is still in insurgent hands. One of the guards at the university said he believed the militants' real aim was to seize an area called Humaira behind the campus, which would allow them to set up supply lines between Ramadi and Falluja. "I think the militants will withdraw as their target was not the university. They came to stay in Humaira, and we know how important it is for them," he said. "They want to be connected with their gunmen in Falluja". Almost 480,000 people have been forced to leave their homes in Anbar over the past six months, according to the United Nations - Iraq's largest displacement since the sectarian bloodletting that climaxed in 2006-07. Violence is still well below those levels, but last year was Iraq's deadliest since security began to improve in 2008. Nearly 800 people were killed across the country in May alone - the highest monthly toll this year so far. On Thursday, militants moved into the city of Samarra in the adjacent province of Salahuddin and briefly occupied a university there as well as two mosques, raising ISIL's black banner until airstrikes forced them to retreat. [ID:nL6N0OM4EL] The following day, insurgents fought Iraqi security forces in the northern city of Mosul. [ID:nL6N0ON4W6] The head of Mosul morgue said the bodies of 59 civilians and 11 people had been brought in since Friday. Another source at the morgue said there were still corpses on the streets that could not be recovered because some districts of the city remained under militant control. (Additional reporting by Raheem Salman in Baghdad and Ziad al-Sinjary in Mosul; Writing by Isabel Coles; Editing by Kevin Liffey) ============================ Three days of major jihadist attacks around Iraq, including on a university, have left dozens dead in a stark display of militant strength and the country's enormous security challenges. Militants assaulted the city of Samarra, battled security forces in Mosul, took hundreds of hostages at Anbar University in Ramadi and carried out numerous other attacks in Baghdad and elsewhere. Iraq is suffering its worst violence in years, and with none of the myriad problems that contribute to the heightened unrest headed for quick resolutions, the bloodshed is likely to continue unabated. Powerful jihadist group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has been blamed for most of the latest attacks, and is believed to be responsible for much of the violence in the country. "Evidently, ISIL is in a very strong position," said John Drake, a London-based security analyst at AKE Group. "It is able to stand its ground in open fighting with the national security forces, which is major." And with even the United States having struggled to curb violence in the country, it will be even more challenging for Iraqi security forces, which have significant shortcomings in training and discipline. "Militancy in the centre of the country was a major headache for the strongest military force in the world, so it's no wonder that the Iraqi security forces are encountering such difficulties," Drake said. "They are facing a massive challenge." - New generals, old tactics - Kirk Sowell, the Amman-based publisher of the Inside Iraqi Politics newsletter, said the violence clearly shows that militants are "very strong". But the question is why "they have maintained this strength... why are the Iraqi security forces not more capable of dealing with this?" One issue is widespread arrest campaigns by security forces that Sowell said sweep up many people who are likely innocent, terming it a "completely ineffective security policy". He also said the high rate of turnover among senior officers is problematic, noting that there have been five different top commanders in restive Anbar province in roughly two years. "They keep recycling these generals... but there's no change in tactics, there's no evidence that they're learning," he said. The latest large-scale attacks began Thursday morning, when militants travelling in dozens of vehicles, some mounted with anti-aircraft guns, attacked the city of Samarra, north of Baghdad, and occupied multiple areas. They were only displaced after heavy house-to-house fighting and helicopter strikes, during which officials said 12 police and dozens of militants were killed. The following day, heavy fighting broke out between security forces and militants in multiple areas of the northern city of Mosul, one of the most dangerous areas of the country. The clashes and shelling, combined with other attacks in the surrounding Nineveh province, killed more than 100 people over two days. And on Saturday, militants infiltrated Anbar University in Ramadi, west of Baghdad, killed its guards and took hundreds of students and staff hostage. The attack prompted an assault by security forces that eventually freed the hostages but also led to an hours-long battle with militants. While militants have attacked government buildings and taken hostages before, universities are not their usual target. "The targeting of young civilians in violence is more emotive than attacks on the security forces," Drake said when asked about the university attack. And later on Saturday, seven bombs ripped through different areas of the Iraqi capital, killing at least 25 people. Iraq is plagued by myriad problems that contribute to the violence, from widespread anger among the country's Sunni Arab minority, long-running political paralysis, ineffective security forces and the bloody civil war in neighbouring Syria. None of these issues are likely to be resolved soon. ======================================================== http://www.almadapress.com/ar/news/32210/ Bombing on Kurdish party HQ in Iraq kills 18 Sun, Jun 08 10:05 AM EDT BAQUBA Iraq (Reuters) - At least 18 people were killed in two blasts at the headquarters of a Kurdish political party in Iraq's ethnically mixed province of Diyala on Sunday, local officials and medics said. Most of the victims of Sunday's attack were members of the Kurdish security forces who were guarding the office of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) party in the town of Jalawla, 115 km (70 miles) northeast of Baghdad. "A suicide bomber parked a car packed with explosives near the PUK headquarters and after it went off, he managed to sneak into the building and detonate his vest," said Khorsheed Ahmed, chairman of Jalawla city council. The explosions were the latest in a formidable show of strength by militants who in recent days have overrun parts of two major cities, occupied a university campus in western Iraq and set off a dozen car bombs in Baghdad. Jalawla lies in disputed territory, and is one of several towns where Iraqi troops and Kurdish peshmerga regional guards have previously faced off against each other, asserting their competing claims over the area. Both are a target for Sunni Islamist insurgents who have been regaining ground and momentum in Iraq over the past year. The Sunni militant Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) claimed responsibility for Sunday's attack in a statement posted on its "Diyala Emirate" Twitter account, and said it was in revenge for the arrest of Muslim women in Kurdistan. "HIT AND RUN" ISIL gave a slightly different version of the attack, which it said had been carried out by two suicide bombers, the first of whom drove a car packed with explosives into the PUK's compound and blew himself and the vehicle up. The second, whose name indicated he was a Kurd, then entered a crowd of people that had gathered to help those wounded in the first blast and detonated his explosives belt amongst them. In April, a suicide bomber struck a Kurdish political rally in the town of Khaniqin, also in Diyala, killing 30 people. Nearly 800 people were killed across the country in May alone - the highest monthly toll this year so far - and last year was Iraq's deadliest since violence began to ease from a peak in 2006-07. Baghdad-based political analyst Ahmed Younis said ISIL was benefiting from the group's consolidation across the border in Syria, which allowed it to focus on Iraq and drain the army's resolve and resources. "Hit and run attacks conducted by ISIL in Iraq, especially in the mainly Sunni provinces, keep the army engaged on multiple fronts and definitely draw the government forces into a protracted battle," Younis said. Police and security sources said Iraqi special forces were still fighting on Sunday to regain control over several districts on the left bank of the river that cuts through the northern city of Mosul, which militants moved into on Friday. Two members of the Iraqi elite forces were killed in clashes there on Sunday, the sources said. In the western province of Anbar, militants withdrew from a university they occupied on Saturday and took up positions in the surrounding area, shooting at the army as they tried to enter the campus, according to police, security officials and witnesses. (Reporting by Reuters stringer in Diyala and Ahmed Rasheed; Additional reporting by Ziad al-Sinjary in Mosul and Kamal Naama in Ramadi; Writing by Isabel Coles; Editing by Sophie Hares)

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