BAGHDAD — At least 24 people were killed early Tuesday in south-central Iraq when two car bombs detonated at a heavily fortified government compound in Diwaniyah province, a predominantly Shiite area that until now had largely escaped the violence that continues to grip the country.
The explosions detonated moments apart at a compound that includes both the governor’s home and the provincial government headquarters, underscoring how even well-guarded facilities in Iraq remain vulnerable to attack. Such twin bombings have become the hallmark for insurgents seeking to inflict mass casualties on first-responders and Iraqi army units.
Initially, a car bomb detonated near the gate of Gov. Hussein Alwan’s home in the city of Diwaniyah about 7 a.m., resulting in only minor damage and no casualties, Iraqi security forces said. But when police and emergency personnel gathered at the scene to investigate, a second car bomb exploded, sending bodies flying through the air.
At least 24 people were killed and more than 40 people were injured, according to the Health Department in Diwaniyah province. Most of the killed and injured were police or security personnel, officials said.
Alwan escaped unharmed.
Diwaniyah is located about 80 miles south of Baghdad. Unlike many other areas of Iraq, local officials say, there have been relatively few attacks on Iraqis there in the years following the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
But insurgents and terror groups have been stepping up attacks on federal and local government facilities across the country, underscoring the perilous state of security — for both Iraqis and U.S. soldiers — as American forces prepare to withdraw by Dec. 31.
So far in June, nine U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq, making it already the second-deadliest month for American forces since November 2009. Eleven troops were killed in April, according to icasualties.org.
In another attack last week in Baqubah in north-central Iraq, nine people were killed when armed men briefly overtook the Diyala Provincial Council building. It took Iraqi security officials, who were backed by U.S. troops and Army helicopters, more than an hour to end the siege.
In both that incident and in Tuesday’s bombings in Diwaniyah, local officials said they suspect al-Qaeda in Iraq or one its affiliates to be responsible.
Elsewhere, in Musayab in Babel Province southern Iraq, at least two people were killed and eight others wounded when an explosion tore though a cafe Tuesday, according to Iraqi security officials.
Baghdad was also hit with several bombings Tuesday morning, which followed multiple explosions there on Monday.
In southern Baghdad, a bomb detonated in a minibus, often used here to transport commuters and shoppers. At least one person was killed and three people were injured. An Iraqi army convoy also struck a roadside bomb on the city’s Palestine Street, killing one soldier and injuring three others and two civilians walking nearby, according to Iraqi security officials.
There were also car bombings in front of two different liquor stores in Karrada, in central Baghdad. But officials said there were no immediate reports of injuries in those incidents.
Other potential attacks were thwarted Tuesday. Iriqya TV reported that Iraqi security officials killed two men and arrested three others when they attempted to launch rockets in Baghdad.
Security officials in Ramadi in Anbar Province in western Iraq also intercepted two cars packed with explosives Tuesday. The drivers of the vehicles, who were arrested, were apparently attempting to bomb the headquarters of the Anbar Provincial Council, according to security officials.
Even as security officials respond to the attacks and attempted violence, Baghdad is preparing for an annual pilgrimage next week when hundreds of thousands of Shiites will walk to a shrine where a revered holy figure is buried.
The pilgrims, who walk from Adhamiyah across a bridge spanning the Tigris River into Kadhimiyah, have been targeted in recent years by Sunni terrorists. Last year, more than 43 people were killed in separate attacks on the pilgrims.
Special correspondents Sa’ad Sarhan in Najaf and Hassan al Shimmari in Diyala contributed to this report.