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A suicide bomber killed at least 12 people Thursday and wounded almost two dozen others, rattling Iraq’s Anbar Province in what locals said was an attempt to discourage participation in next month’s elections.
The bomber exploded at the southern entrance to the governmental compound in Ramadi, which includes the Anbar provincial council, the governor’s office and the police headquarters, the New York Times reports. Other news agencies had varying estimates on the number of casualties, with Reuters putting it at 11 and Agence France-Presse putting it at 10.
In any case, it was the most deadly in a recent spate of attacks. Violence has been rising in Iraq ahead of the March parliamentary elections and has struck Ramadi, the capital of Anbar, more than once recently. Thursday’s blast decimated a police checkpoint, Reuters reports.
A restaurant worker in Ramadi ... said that bodies littered the scene, close to a complex housing provincial government buildings ... "A suicide bomber ... attacked the checkpoint of the police and army close to our restaurant. Some of them were killed. I saw around five or six bodies, and helped carry them to cars going to hospital," worker Hamid Ali said.
Another restaurant worker at the scene of Thursday’s bombing told the BBC: "They are trying to undermine the political process and prevent us from taking part in the election.” (See a map of the area at the BBC.)
A Sunni insurgency was strong in Anbar until 2007, when Sunni tribes and their followers began cooperating with the Iraqi government and US forces. But now, after a two-year period of relative calm, the province is again slipping into violent unrest, says the British news outlet. Late last year, two suicide blasts killed 25 people and severely injured regional governor Qassim Mohammed, and coordinated bombs in October left at least 22 people dead and many more injured.
The increase in violence also comes as the US plans to withdraw a large number of troops by the middle of this year. Vice President Joe Biden recently commented that 90,000 soldiers would be coming home by the end of summer, according to Foreign Policy, leaving about 10,000 troops in Iraq. But the White House is likely concerned about what at least one general says is an increasingly sophisticated Al Qaeda presence in Iraq and whether the election results will be viewed as credible, according to the Monitor.
Reporting on the latest bombing, Iran’s Press TV noted that the Maplecroft's Terrorism Risk Index this week ranked Iraq as the riskiest country in the globe – for the second year in a row – in terms of political violence and terror attacks. More than 4,500 civilians were killed by terrorist attacks across Iraq in the last year, according to the UK based-group.