By Uthman al-Mokhtar and Nada Bakri
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, October 12, 2009
RAMADI, Iraq, Oct. 11 -- Three car bombings targeted a police station and a government headquarters in the provincial capital of Ramadi in western Iraq on Sunday, killing at least 25 people and underlining the precarious situation in Anbar province.
Violence in the province had fallen sharply in the past year after local tribal leaders, backed by U.S. forces, defeated a homegrown al-Qaeda group and other militants. But explosions and suicide attacks in recent weeks were reminiscent of 2003 and 2004, when the insurgency was gathering strength.
Although the blasts did not appear to be set off by suicide bombers, they were timed to detonate in quick succession to kill as many rescuers and police as possible.
"The security forces are negligent," said Raad Sabah, a leader of the U.S.-backed militia that fought the insurgency in Ramadi. "They are busy with politics and the elections and their own business deals."
Rumors spread through Ramadi and other parts of the province about who was behind the attacks. Some suggested government officials were involved, part of the fallout from months of negotiations over creating alliances for Iraq's parliamentary elections in January. Others said that al-Qaeda was exploiting the rift between politicians ahead of the polls and blamed security forces for negligence. At least six senior security officials are running in the upcoming elections.
The first bombing occurred in a parking lot near the police headquarters for Anbar province and the provincial council building, when a 1991 Opel vehicle rigged with explosives detonated at 12:30 p.m. It killed the parking lot's attendant and another civilian. As it went off, senior provincial council officials, tribal leaders and security chiefs were meeting in the provincial council building.
Nine minutes later, after police, medics and firefighters had gathered at the scene, a gray Daewoo parked 15 yards from the first car detonated, killing 21 others, including policemen and firefighters. At least 67 people were injured in both bombings. About an hour later, a third car exploded near the Ramadi hospital where the dead and wounded were being brought, killing two people.
"It was an organized attack," said Bassel Mohammad, a taxi driver who was 30 yards from the bombing site and whose brother was among the victims. "The city is falling apart, people are dying, al-Qaeda is regaining strength and our leaders are busy with politics and the elections."
Iraqi policemen, unable to control the bombing scene, fired shots in the air in an attempt to disperse people who had gathered to look for loved ones.
Brig. Gen. Khamis Dulaimi, head of the emergency unit in the province, called the attacks a major security breach and said an investigation would be held to determine how they were carried out and why the cars weren't searched at checkpoints.
A curfew was imposed on Ramadi, and security forces declared an emergency. Schools and universities sent students home soon after news of the bombings spread. Mosques broadcast appeals over loudspeakers for people to donate blood.
Bakri reported from Baghdad.