Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat – In what can be considered a new phase in its terrorist activities, Iraqi police claim for the first time to have uncovered an Al-Qaeda cell containing three Shia members.
Spokesmen for the Iraqi interior ministry, Ahmed Abu Raghif told Asharq Al-Awsat that the cell operated in the area around the city of Diwaniya, 180 kilometres south of Baghdad, and carried out numerous attacks and targeted killings.
One of the cell’s alleged Shia members was a police officer employed by the interior ministry.
“The investigations began on 9 April, just days after the series of bombings in Baghdad,” Abu Raghif told Asharq Al-Awsat. “We received information that a policeman from al-Doura helped the terrorists drive through numerous police and Iraqi army checkpoints in Baghdad to carry out the car bombings.”
The policeman was arrested and confessed to the crime, Raghif added.
Iraqi authorities believe the cell carried out a series of bombings in Baghdad on 6 April that killed 32 people.
In other news, two car bombs exploded near a restaurant in Baghdad’s main Shiite district on Wednesday, killing at least 17 people, Iraqi police said.
The blasts came less than a week after bombings claimed more than 150 lives over a two-day span, raising fears that suspected Sunni insurgents are regrouping as the U.S. military begins to withdraw.
The Sadr City blasts went off in quick succession from parked cars filled with explosives, police said. Officers said they found another car bomb at the scene but prevented it from detonating.
Sadr City is a former Shiite militia stronghold heavily guarded by Iraqi military. An offensive last year broke the control of militias over the district, and the area has been relatively quiet in recent months.
A police official, who gave the casualty toll on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to release the information, said nearly 50 people also were wounded.
The increase in high-profile attacks in recent weeks has raised questions about the ability of Iraq’s forces to sustain security gains as they increasingly take over from the Americans.
The blasts also followed the announcement by the Iraqi government that it has captured the alleged leader of an al-Qaeda front group. On Tuesday, the Iraqi military presented the first image of the man it says is Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, saying his arrest would deal a major blow to the insurgency.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said during a weekend visit to Baghdad that the recent bombings were a sign that extremists are afraid Iraq’s government is succeeding.
Sadr City, a sprawling Shiite slum that contains about 2.5 million people, has been the site of several attacks by suspected Sunni insurgents as well as clashes between Shiite militiamen and U.S. forces.