BAGHDAD, (Reuters) – Bombers struck in Baghdad and at a police headquarters in a northern Iraqi border town on Thursday, killing 19 people, and gunmen shot a reporter in the latest attack targeting Iraqi journalists.
In the worst violence, a suicide bomber driving a truck packed with explosives rammed a police headquarters and adjoining municipal building in the northern town of Rabea, near the Syrian border, killing nine people, police said.
The attack, which also wounded 22 people, including five British civilian contractors, largely destroyed both buildings, police said.
The town is northwest of Mosul, where U.S. military commanders blame Sunni Arab insurgents and criminals for stoking much of the violence. Iraqi security officials, however, say Shi’ite and Kurdish militias are also involved.
In Mosul, gunmen shot dead Sahar al-Haideri, a journalist working for the independent Aswat al-Iraqi news agency. She was the second staff member to be killed in just over a week.
The agency said the married mother of three had been on a “death list” issued by an al Qaeda-led group.
Journalists have been dying in record numbers in Iraq, with at least 12 killed in May, the highest monthly total since the start of the U.S.-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein in 2003.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists says at least 105 journalists have been killed since 2003. Journalists are increasingly finding themselves caught in the crossfire in Iraq’s sectarian conflict and Sunni Arab-led insurgency against U.S. forces and the Iraqi government.
In Baghdad, where U.S. and Iraqi troops have launched a major crackdown to stem sectarian violence, a car bomb killed five people and wounded 15 near a restaurant in Sadr City, police said. Sadr City is a stronghold of Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army militia.
Two suicide car bombers also hit an Iraqi army checkpoint in the western Baghdad suburb of Abu Ghraib, killing five people.
Shi’ite and Sunni gunmen clashed in the Sunni district of Saidiya in the south of the capital. Witnesses said the Sunni fighters were trying to stop an incursion by Mehdi Army militiamen from an adjoining Shi’ite neighbourhood.
The gunmen were shooting at each other across a highway and mortar bombs were reported to be falling in the area around the district’s main Sunni mosque.
Police said they were battling gunmen and that there were casualties, but they had no details. A source at Yarmouk hospital said one person had been killed and seven wounded.
The Mehdi Army has largely kept a low profile since the launch of the U.S.-backed crackdown in Baghdad to avoid confrontations with U.S. troops, but there are signs that it is becoming more active again.
Iraqi government officials say they suspect the militia was behind last week’s kidnapping of a British computer consultant and his four bodyguards, who were abducted from a Finance Ministry building in Baghdad by gunmen in police uniforms.
Britain’s ambassador to Iraq said on Thursday he was willing to listen to the kidnappers but not to negotiate with them. “We have people here in Iraq who are ready to listen to any person about this incident, or any person who may be holding these men and who may wish to communicate,” envoy Dominic Asquith said at a news conference.
But, he added: “The British Government’s policy on these matters is clear and well known. We do not condone these actions.”
One British soldier died and three were wounded when they came under machinegun and rocket-propelled grenade fire during a raid near the southern Iraqi city of Basra, where British forces are battling Shi’ite militias, including the Mehdi Army.
April was the worst month for British forces in Iraq since 2003, with 12 killed. A total of 150 British soldiers have died.