(New York Times)
BAGHDAD — For the second time this month, suicide bombers on Monday struck a government compound in Anbar Province, after recent large-scale arrests of suspected members of Al Qaeda. At least 14 people were killed and 53 wounded in the attack, a police official said, making it one of the most deadly in nearly two months.
The blasts came on a day when Iraq’s oil minister announced that the country’s oil production, a linchpin of Iraq’s future stability, had reached its highest level in 20 years, helped by foreign companies now able to move into Iraq because of improved security.
Though no one claimed responsibility for the bombing, officials in Anbar said it was likely a response to raids in the last week and a half that rounded up 93 suspected militants. Officials speculated that the bombers also intended to scare off foreign investors and developers. The oil ministry recently completed the auction of a gas field in Anbar to a consortium of Kazakh and Korean developers.
The attack on Monday followed a Dec. 12 assault in the same location, at the edge of the government compound in Ramadi, the provincial capital, that killed at least 13 people and wounded more than 50. That attack similarly followed a highly publicized police operation that rounded up 38 suspected terrorists in Anbar.
“The terrorist organizations do not want Anbar province to be stable or participate in the political process,” said Aifan Sadoon Al-Aifan, head of Anbar’s provincial security committee. He called the attack “a weak message from the terrorists trying to disturb the security improvements.”
Witnesses said the attack unfolded in two coordinated stages. About 9:30 a.m., a minibus carrying a bomb exploded near the heavily fortified entrance to the compound. As responders rushed to the scene, a suicide bomber wearing a military uniform and an explosive vest blew himself up. At least four policemen were killed. Among the injured were women, children and other civilians.
Saif Salah al-Heti, 39, was being searched by security men when the first bomb went off, injuring his left leg and leaving him briefly unconscious. When he came to, he said, “I found a lot of martyrs and wounded people on the ground and I heard the sounds of ambulances and firefighters’ vehicles.”
Another victim, Sufyan Nassir al-Dulemi, 26, remembered screaming after the first explosion for people to stay away, because there might be a second. But it was too late. The second blast “was stronger than the first one,” Mr. Dulemi said.
Mr. Aifan said the bombers waited for an American convoy to pass before attacking, apparently aiming at an Iraqi police patrol vehicle.
Anbar, a largely Sunni province to the west of Baghdad, remains a stronghold of the insurgency. It was the birthplace of the Sunni Awakening movement, in which tribal sheiks and former insurgents joined American troops to fight against their former allies.
The Awakening Councils are credited, along with the increase in the number of American troops, with reducing sectarian violence from its highs in 2005 to 2007. But since then, Awakening members have been the targets of attacks, which have intensified as security forces have made gains against insurgents.
On Dec. 18, an assassination attempt, using a laptop filled with explosives, was carried out against Sheik Ahmed Abu Risha, head of the Anbar Awakening Council. The police defused the bomb and arrested a suspect they said was a senior militant.
The sheik was defiant after Monday’s attack. “Al Qaeda is defeated in Anbar,” he said. “We will fight Al Qaeda in the city, follow them and kill them.” He added that more arrests of Al Qaeda members would be announced soon.
Anbar’s governor, Qasim Abed al-Fahadawi, said the bombers took advantage of “some negligence in the security forces.” Even with all the recent arrests, “there should be a better intelligence,” said Mr. Fahadawi, who lost a leg in an attack on the compound in 2009.
Mr. Aifan said that after so many attacks the provincial government was looking for a new place for its compound — something away from the main streets where there would not be so much traffic. At its current location, he said, all the cars passing made it “difficult for us to prevent the attacks.”