RAMADI (Reuters) - Twin suicide bombings rocked a government compound in Iraq’s western city of Ramadi on Monday, killing 17 people, a deputy interior minister said.
It was the second attack this month on the compound, which houses the provincial council ands the police headquarters for Anbar province, and the third bombing there in the past year.
“The death toll is 17 killed and between 50 and 60 wounded,” Lieutenant General Hussein Kamal, a deputy interior minister, told Reuters.
Anbar Governor Qassim Mohammedsaid the first blast happened when a minibus exploded outside the compound and the second was caused by a suicide bomber on foot, disguised as a policeman.
“Prime Minister (Nuri al-Maliki) has ordered an investigative committee to be formed due to the repeated targeting of (this) building in Anbar province,” Kamal said.
The sprawling desert province of Anbar was the heartland of a Sunni Islamist insurgency after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Its main cities, Ramadi and Falluja, witnessed some of the fiercest fighting of the war.
While overall violence in Iraq has dropped from the peak of sectarian warfare in 2006-7, bombings and attacks still occur daily, and insurgents are still capable of large-scale attacks.
At the site of Monday’s blasts, pools of blood dotted the ground, footage from Reuters Television showed. The stumps of the suicide bomber’s severed legs lay at the scene. Debris from wrecked cars littered the site.
Ali Mahmoud, a doctor at Ramadi hospital, said hospital records put the toll at 16 people killed, including five policemen, and 52 wounded, including 12 policemen.
The emergency room was filled with patients wounded in the attack. The hospital was also crowded with people who had responded to an appeal broadcast on mosque loudspeakers to donate blood to help the injured.
“What shall we do to save ourselves? There is nothing left but to make ourselves prisoners in our homes,” said Talib Ali, 50, who was at the hospital attending to his son Mohammed, who had been wounded in his abdomen and back.
Hikmet Khalaf, the deputy governor of Anbar, blamed the attack on the Iraqi wing of al Qaeda.
“The goal of al Qaeda is clear, to strike at security in the province. This is not the first attack targeting the local government buildings. The attackers chose a crowded intersection in Ramadi to kill large numbers of civilians who were headed to the government buildings,” he told Reuters.
Earlier this month, Iraqi security forces arrested 39 al Qaeda militants, including the group’s leadership in Anbar province and one of its top officers in Iraq.
“The arrest of senior al Qaeda leaders in Anbar ... a month ago does not mean that al Qaeda has ended because al Qaeda has the ability to organize itself in a short period,” Kamal said.
“We were expecting such attacks from al Qaeda, not just in Anbar but in all of Iraq, to prove its presence at this stage, especially after the formation of a new government, to make the security forces look helpless, weak and like a failure.”
Iraq formed a new government last week after months of factional squabbling, subduing fears that insurgents could exploit the political vacuum to destabilize the country.
The last attack on the government compound in Ramadi happened on December 12, when a suicide car bomber killed 13 people and wounded dozens. In December 2009, twin suicide blasts killed at least 24 and wounded more than 100 just outside the provincial government headquarters.
Ramadi is 100 km (60 miles) west of Baghdad.
Additional reporting by Muhanad Mohammed and Waleed Ibrahim; Writing by Serena Chaudhry; Editing by Caroline Drees