RAMADI, Iraq (AFP) – Eight people were killed and 15 wounded on Monday in a suicide car bomb attack on a security checkpoint in the western Iraqi city of Ramadi, a former Al-Qaeda stronghold, police said.
The predominantly Sunni Arab city, capital of Anbar province, was a key insurgent base in the aftermath of the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime by US-led forces in 2003, but violence has dropped dramatically since.
Monday’s attack happened at around 8:30 am (0530 GMT) in Al-Jazeera, a northern neighbourhood of Ramadi, a police official told AFP.
“There were four security force members and four civilians among the victims,” he said, adding that the 15 wounded comprised 13 civilians and two police.
Ramadi, a city of around 540,000 people, is situated 100 kilometres (62 miles) west of Baghdad.
Anbar, Iraq’s biggest province, became the theatre of a brutal war focused on the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi, while several towns along the Euphrates river valley became Al-Qaeda strongholds and later safe havens for insurgents.
But since 2006 local Sunni tribes there have sided with the US military and unrest has dwindled across Anbar as rebel fighters have been ejected from the region.
In September last year, US marines turned over control of Anbar to about 28,000 Iraqi police and 8,000 troops.
Monday’s attack comes after Baghdad ministries said violent deaths in Iraq hit a 13-month high in August, raising fresh concerns about the country’s stability after the government recently admitted that security is worsening.
Statistics compiled by the defence, interior and health ministries on September 1 showed 456 people — 393 civilians, 48 police and 15 Iraqi soldiers — were killed, the highest toll since July last year when 465 died in unrest.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki sent extra troops to the west of the country at the weekend to secure the border with Syria and hit out at countries he says are giving terrorists the shelter they need to mount attacks inside Iraq.
Maliki signalled no let-up in a worsening row with its neighbour for allegedly harbouring bombers who wrought devastation on Baghdad last month, and broadened his attack to include other nations.
“We will always look for a process of closing all the doors that the assassins can breathe from again. We blame our brothers and our friends and neighbouring countries,” he said on Saturday.
Anbar’s police chief confirmed that police and soldiers had been sent to strengthen security along the Iraq-Syria border, which stretches for 725 kilometres (450 miles), although he would not specify how many.
The United States has also blamed Syria for having lax border controls that allow insurgents, including Al-Qaeda-linked rebels, to cross.
The attacks on the finance and foreign ministries in Baghdad on August 19 killed at least 95 people and wounded 600, in what was the worst day of violence seen in Iraq for 18 months.