More than 50 dead as violence flares in Iraq

BAGHDAD (AFP) — A suicide bomber blew himself up in the middle of an Iraqi funeral procession on Wednesday, the bloodiest in a string of attacks across the country that left more than 50 people dead and scores wounded.
The bomber, wired with explosives, walked up to a group of about 100 Shiite mourners burying the victim of a drive-by shooting in the small town of Mukdadiyah, about 100 kilometres northeast of Baghdad.

He detonated his bomb at the graveside killing 37 people and wounding 45 others in the deadliest suicide attack since Iraq’s Dec. 15 parliamentary election.

The funeral was for a bodyguard who died overnight after being wounded in an attack Tuesday on a local official of the Dawa Party of outgoing Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari.

A young girl also died in the shooting although the target of the attack survived. The official, Ahmad Al Baqa, was at the funeral and again survived.

Security forces immediately cordoned off the town as families rushed to its overcrowded hospital looking for relatives.

Army medics were drafted in to help treat the wounded.

In other violence, at least two car bombs exploded in the capital.

One blew up outside a police precinct issuing identity cards in a Shiite neighbourhood of north Baghdad. Five people were killed and 13 wounded.

Another car bomb exploded in the south of the city as police commandos drove by. Two commandos and one civilian were killed and 11 people wounded, security officials said.

A police commando was also killed and 18 others injured in clashes with insurgents in the west of the capital, an official at Yarmuk Hospital said. Many suffered shrapnel wounds.

A senior oil ministry official and his son were shot dead in their car in the same area of the capital. Their driver was wounded.

In central Baghdad, at least two people were wounded in a roadside bombing, witnesses said, while in the restive town of Baqouba further north, one woman was killed and several people wounded in two bomb attacks.

In the mainly Shiite southeastern city of Amara, a former member of Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-dominated Baath Party was shot dead.

The capital’s fuel supplies came under renewed attack just days after deliveries resumed from Iraq’s largest refinery.

Insurgents ambushed a convoy of 18 tanker trucks being escorted by security forces to Baghdad from the refinery in the northern town of Baiji, killing a driver, officials said.

In a separate attack in the afternoon, rebels torched three tanker trucks just north of Baghdad.

Deliveries of petrol and other refined products from Baiji had only resumed earlier this week after truck drivers walked off the job for nearly a fortnight to protest insurgent death threats.

They only agreed to return to work after the authorities agreed to provide military escorts for tanker convoys.

The disruption led to fuel shortages not only in the capital but also across northern and north-central Iraq, sparking deadly riots in the oil city of Kirkuk.

Insurgent attacks and sabotage have virtually halted crude exports from northern Iraq as well as supplies for the domestic market.

But oil ministry spokesman Assim Jihad said exports from southern fields around Basra were back up to 1.55 million barrels per day (bpd), after a spate of bad weather in the Gulf briefly halted tanker liftings.

That disruption had brought exports down to 1.1 million bpd in December, the lowest level since the immediate aftermath of the 2003 invasion.

An international monitoring team, meanwhile, announced that it would take up to three weeks to review complaints of fraud in last month’s parliamentary elections.

“It is going to take two to three weeks,” said the team’s director of operations Mazen Chouaib.

“We will keep going until the work gets done,” he said, adding that four of the team’s foreign experts were already sifting through the complaints. “We are working as fast as we can.”

It was unclear whether the team’s work would delay publication of the final results of the December 15 elections, which are still not known nearly three weeks after the poll was held.

The foreign experts “will observe how the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq dealt with the complaints it received, examine the system of data entry used in tallying votes and observe the field audits done by the IECI, as well as other election related matters,” the commission said in a statement.

The International Mission For Iraqi Elections was set up to review the conduct of the vote in the face of persistent complaints of fraud from minority Sunni Arab and secular parties.

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