Bomb blasts outside government building kill at least 24 in Iraqi city of Ramadi

By Michael Hastings
Thursday, December 31, 2009

BAGHDAD -- A car bomb and a suicide bomber struck a government building in the city of Ramadi on Wednesday, killing at least 24 people and wounding the governor of Anbar province, according to Iraqi police officials and witnesses.

Gov. Kassim Mohammad Fahdawi was among the more than 60 people wounded, Anbar provincial council member Jassem al-Halbousi said. The two bombs detonated outside the provincial government building in Ramadi, about 60 miles west of Baghdad.

The bombings in Ramadi follow a string of about 40 assassination attempts in the past month in the western province of Anbar, mostly targeting politicians, police officers, religious figures and tribal chiefs, according to Iraqi police officials.

The uptick in violence has raised fears that Anbar is on the verge of a deadly relapse. The province was considered a model of American progress in Iraq after an alliance between U.S. forces and Sunni tribal leaders dampened a violent insurgency there.

After Wednesday's bombings, Iraqi authorities imposed a citywide curfew, closing universities and schools and increasing the number of military checkpoints in the city. Witnesses reported seeing American soldiers manning checkpoints and U.S. helicopters flying overhead.

Although no one has asserted responsibility for the attacks, the dual bombings carry signatures of al-Qaeda in Iraq, said Sheik Raad al-Awani, the Ramadi commander of the military wing of Sahwa, a group that had worked with the Americans to restore security to the city.

The first bomb detonated outside the government building, which houses the governor's office and police headquarters, about 10:10 a.m., according to police officials. About 10 minutes later, as Fahdawi and security officials went to inspect the scene, a man wearing a police uniform blew himself up, injuring the governor and killing a number of Iraqi police officers, including a high-ranking security official, Col. Dhaher al-Dulaimi.

According to Muhanad Dulaimi, the media officer for the Anbar health department, Fahdawi received serious wounds in the head, chest and abdomen and underwent surgery.

The violence has followed a decrease in the U.S. military presence across Anbar province. There were 57 U.S. outposts in the province last year; there are five now.

The consolidation and scaling down of U.S. forces in Anbar is part of the larger American plan for withdrawal from Iraq. By August, U.S. forces are slated to be down to about 50,000, with three outposts to remain in Anbar by the end of the summer.

U.S. forces are largely consigned to their Ramadi base and are no longer regularly called upon by Iraqi security forces to assist in security operations, U.S. military officials in Ramadi said. The officials said in a recent interview that five main insurgent groups are still active in Anbar and are thought to be behind the latest violence.

Hastings is a special correspondent. Special correspondent Uthman al-Mokhtar contributed to this report.

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