Scores Killed in Iraq Bloodshed

(Reuters) -

Suicide bombers and gunmen killed scores of people in Iraq on Monday in attacks mostly targeting Shi’ite Muslim pilgrims and official buildings ahead of a major Shi’ite ritual next week.

Al-Qaida-linked Sunni Muslim terrorists have intensified attacks on the security forces, civilians and anyone seen as supporting the Shi’ite-led government in Baghdad, tipping Iraq back into its deadliest levels of violence in five years.

The first major attack of the day came in Baiji, 110 miles north of Baghdad, when four men wearing explosive belts took over a police station after detonating a car bomb outside, police sources said.

Two blew themselves up inside the station, killing five policemen. The other two did the same about an hour later as Iraqi special forces counter-attacked, the sources said.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but suicide bombings are the trademark of al-Qaida’s Iraqi wing, which merged this year with its Syrian counterpart to form the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Two hours later, three suicide bombers seized the local council building in Tikrit, 95 miles (150 kms) north of the capital, after setting off two car bombs outside, security sources said. At least three people were killed. The Interior Ministry put the toll for the attacks in Baiji and Tikrit at 11 dead, including the suicide bombers, and three wounded.

Later in the evening, two car bombs and a roadside bomb exploded near a funeral tent in the town of Yusfiya, 20 km south of Baghdad, killing at least 24 Shi’ite pilgrims, police said.

Another roadside bomb killed five pilgrims in southern Baghdad’s mainly Shi’ite Abu Dsheer district, adding to a spate of bombings in mainly Shi’ite neighborhoods that killed at least 27 people earlier in the day.

A suicide bomber also killed two policeman when he detonated himself near a checkpoint in eastern Falluja, 50 km west of Baghdad. Another two policemen were shot dead in northern Falluja.

This year has been Iraq’s most violent since 2006-7, when tens of thousands died in strife between Sunnis and Shi’ites.