BAGHDAD, (Reuters) – At least 34 people were killed in a series of attacks and blasts across Iraq on Sunday, including a car bomb outside a French consular building, as the government grapples with a persistent insurgency.
Sunni insurgents and al Qaeda have launched a series of major attacks this year in an attempt to stoke the kind of political and sectarian tensions that drove the country to near civil war in 2006-2007.
The most serious of the 16 attacks happened overnight in Dujail, 50 km (30 miles) north of Baghdad, when gunmen and a suicide bomber driving a car attacked a military base, killing 11 soldiers and injuring seven, police sources said.
A car bomb killed eight people who were queuing to apply to be recruited as police guards for the Iraqi North Oil Company in the flashpoint city of Kirkuk, 250 km north of Baghdad, police said.
The car bomb that exploded outside the French consular building in the usually stable city of Nassiriya, 300 km south of Baghdad, killed a police guard and wounded four other guards, authorities said.
Another car bomb also detonated in the city, killing two and wounding three.
More people were killed in several other blasts across the country in the towns of Kirkuk, Samarra, Basra and Tuz Khurmato.
FEARS OF RETURN TO VIOLENCE
The blast in Nassiriya damaged the building where the French embassy operates a consular office, but the honorary consul himself, an Iraqi citizen, was not at the office at the time of the attack, one French diplomat said.
French diplomats have been hit before by violence in Iraq.
In June last year, a French embassy convoy was hit by a roadside bomb in Baghdad that wounded seven local Iraqi guards and badly damaged an embassy vehicle. A month earlier, another French embassy convoy had been hit by an explosive device.
At that time France had been on high alert for attacks overseas due to tensions over the presence of its troops in Afghanistan and the country’s ban on allowing full-length Islamic veils, which was widely criticised by Muslims abroad as harming their religious freedom.
The Iraqi government, riven by infighting among Sunni, Shi’ite and Kurdish political factions, is still struggling to battle Islamist militants and an al Qaeda affiliate nine months after the last U.S. troops left.
Iraq’s local al Qaeda wing, Islamic State of Iraq, has claimed responsibility for other major attacks on security forces and Shi’ite neighbourhoods. But former members of Saddam Hussein’s outlawed Baathist party and other Sunni Islamist groups are also fighting the government.
Nobody has yet claimed responsibility for Sunday’s attacks.
Tension in Iraq’s delicate power-sharing government, and a resurgence of the al Qaeda group, have raised fears of a return to widespread violence, especially as Iraq struggles to contain spillover from the growing conflict in neighbouring Syria.