BAGHDAD, (AP) – Two suicide car bombers attacked a police station Sunday in western Baghdad, killing at least 13 people and wounding 82, police said.
The bombs exploded as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki arrived in Cairo on the first stop of a four-nation regional tour aimed at winning Arab support for his embattled government.
The first driver raced through a police checkpoint guarding the station and exploded his vehicle just outside the two-story building, police said. Moments later, a second suicide car bomber aimed at the checkpoint’s concrete barriers and exploded just outside them, police said.
Iraqi police stations often are the target of attacks by insurgents who accuse the officers of betraying Iraq by working in cooperation with its U.S.-backed Shiite government and the American military.
The blasts occurred at about 10 a.m. in Baiyaa, a mixed Sunni-Shiite area of western Baghdad, a policeman said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
He said 13 people died — five policemen and eight civilians — and that 82 were wounded: 46 policemen and 36 civilians.
The casualty toll could rise as rescue workers sifted through rubble for more victims. Thick black smoke billowed up into the sky and ambulances raced to the location with sirens wailing.
Al-Maliki’s trip came at a precarious time for his regime. He suffered a blow last week when six Cabinet ministers allied to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr quit the government, to protest the prime minister’s failure to back calls for a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces. Al-Maliki is expected to name replacements in the coming days.
On Sunday, al-Maliki was received by his Egyptian counterpart, Ahmed Nazif, and was scheduled to meet later in the day with President Hosni Mubarak and the head of the Arab League, Amr Moussa.
The meetings come just 10 days before two conferences on Iraq are to be held in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik. They will be attended by Iraq’s neighbors as well as Bahrain and Egypt, and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, as well as other developed countries.
After Egypt, al-Maliki is scheduled to visit Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Oman.
The bombings in Baiyaa also damaged homes and car service centers near the police station.
At least two mechanics working nearby were wounded by flying shrapnel and debris.
“I was cleaning a car at the garage where I work when suddenly an explosion took place and knocked me over,” Hussein Rahim, 22, said from a gurney at Yarmouk Hospital, where the victims were taken. Rahim was wounded in the arm.
Another car repairman, 25-year-old Mohammed Abdul-Hussein, said: “I heard two explosions and was thrown near the car I was working on. Smoke filled the area and I couldn’t see my fellow workers at first.” He suffered a shoulder wound.
In addition to Baiyaa police officers, the station had been serving as the temporary headquarters for police from Dora, a neighborhood in southern Baghdad. Last month, a suicide truck bomber demolished the Dora station, killing at least 11 people.
The Baiyaa bombings also came a day after the killing of the Fallujah city council chairman, a critic of al-Qaida who took the job after his three predecessors were assassinated. Sami Abdul-Amir al-Jumaili was gunned down by attackers in a passing car as he walked outside his home in central Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad, police said.
His assassination came a month after he volunteered to take the dangerous job, promising to improve services and to work with the Americans to ease traffic-clogging checkpoints in the city with a population of an estimated 150,000 to 200,000.
The 65-year-old Sunni sheik was the fourth city council chairman to be killed in some 14 months as insurgents target fellow Sunnis willing to cooperate with the U.S. and its Iraqi partners. Abdul-Amir’s predecessor, Abbas Ali Hussein, who was shot to death on Feb. 2.
Both men were strong critics of al-Qaida in Iraq, which is battling a growing number of Sunni tribes that have turned against it in the vast Anbar province — a center for anti-U.S. guerrillas since the uprising in Fallujah in 2004 that galvanized the insurgency.
In other violence Sunday, morgue officials said three bodies were found floating in the Tigris river in Suwayrah, 25 miles south of Baghdad. The bodies were blindfolded with the hands bound, and gunshots in the head and chest, said morgue official Maamoun al-Ajili.
In Basra, Iraq’s second largest-city, 340 miles southeast of Baghdad, the British military said a suspect accused of attacks on British and Iraqi troops in the area was killed in a raid.
Two of the man’s brothers were arrested, a spokeswoman said.