Bombers kill at least 17 in Iraq

People gather around a destroyed car after a suici (photo credit: AP)
People gather around a destroyed car after a suici
(photo credit: AP)
Suicide attackers struck near a Shiite mosque northof Baghdad and a checkpoint west of the capital on Monday as bombingskilled at least 17 people nationwide.

The violence was concentrated in former Sunniinsurgent strongholds that have seen a sharp decline in violence afterlocal tribal leaders turned against al-Qaida in Iraq. Despite therelative calm, a series of deadly bombings have raised concerns about aresurgence of violence as the US military scales back its presence,with a full withdrawal planned by the end of 2011.

The attacks - which mainly targeted checkpoints and Iraqipolicemen - also highlighted the weaknesses in the Iraqi securityforces, which are struggling to prove they are ready to take over fromthe Americans.

The deadliest attack was a suicide car bomber who struck a lineof vehicles waiting to be inspected before crossing a bridge near theAnbar provincial capital of Ramadi, police said.

The blast set half a dozen other vehicles ablaze,killing three policemen and five civilians and wounding 16 otherpeople, according to police and hospital officials, who spoke oncondition of anonymity because they were not allowed to release theinformation.

A farmer riding in a pickup truck not far behind the attacker'scar ran toward the scene, where he described seeing a child who hadbeen blown by the blast onto the roof of a car.

Hours later, a suicide bomber blew himself up atthe gate of a Shiite mosque in Baqouba, 35 miles (60 kilometers)northeast of Baghdad, killing at least five people - three policemenand two worshippers - and wounding 20, according to police and hospitalofficials.

Maj. Ghalib al-Karkhi of the provincial police said the bomberwas forced to detonate his explosives prematurely after guards tried tosearch him and discovered his suicide vest.

The mainly Sunni city of Baqouba also has been hit by several bombings despite an overall decline in violence.

In Baghdad on Monday, a bomb destroyed a police car, killing oneofficer and two civilians and wounding eight, police said. Another bombkilled a driver as he approached a military checkpoint in the Sadr Citydistrict.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has sought to reassure Iraqisthat the US-trained security forces are capable of taking over fromAmerican troops who have withdrawn from the country's cities.

Recent bombings, especially an Aug. 19 attack on governmentministries in Baghdad that killed about 100 people, have shakenpeople's confidence at a crucial time, just months before Iraqis go tothe polls in January to choose a new parliament.

Iraq's rampant corruption has also become a key election issue.Corruption watchdog Transparency International rated Iraq in 2008 asthe third most corrupt country in the world after Somalia and Myanmar.The Iraqi government had long played down the issue before announcing acrackdown this year.

A judge said Monday that it issued two new arrest warrants. Asenior Finance Ministry official in charge of the auditing departmentis accused of wasting public funds, judge Arif Shahin said.

Authorities are also seeking Iraq's ambassador to Jordan. He isaccused of sheltering a fellow Saddam Hussein-era diplomat who iswanted in the 1994 assassination of an Iraqi dissident in Beirut, saidanother judge at the court, Ali al-Rubaie.

The ambassador, Saad al-Hiyyani, denied the accusation and said he had not been notified of any warrant against him.

The Shiite dissident, Talib al-Suhail, was killed by Iraqiintelligence agents during the rule of Saddam's Sunni regime. Iraq'spostwar Shiite-dominated government began pursuing the case in 2005,al-Rubaie said.

The suspect who Iraq's government believes is in Jordan, AwadFakhri, was charge d'affaires of the Iraqi Embassy in Beirut at thetime of the assassination. He also worked as head of the Arab affairsdepartment at the Foreign Ministry in Baghdad until retiring in 2005.

The ambassador to Jordan questioned why the government did nottry to arrest him then. He added that Fakhri was most likely in Syria,not Jordan.

"The charges (against me) are false," Ambassador al-Hiyyanisaid. "They are malicious and bear hidden motives to tarnish my publicimage."

In northern Iraq, two children playing with a hand grenade theyfound in a stream were killed when it exploded, said police in the cityof Kirkuk.