At least 15 people died and 16 were wounded Monday when a suicide car bomber slammed into a crowd of Iraqi civilians lining up to join the Iraqi police in Baquba, a town located northeast of Baghdad.
Police said the driver tried to ram his car into the police station, but was blocked by a concrete barrier and instead detonated his explosives near civilians waiting outside the gates, Reuters reported.
In the northern city of Mosul, a suicide bomber blew himself up inside a hospital compound among a crowd of Iraqi police officers, killing at least 14 policemen and wounding nine others, a police official said. The powerful explosion left a huge crater in the road and destroyed at least five cars. The officers were believed to be waiting to collect their salaries, according to a Reuters report.
A group led by Jordanian militant and al-Qaida ally Abu Musab al-Zarqawi claimed responsibility for the Mosul bombing and threatened more attacks on “apostates and their masters,” in an apparent reference to U.S.-led forces and the Iraqis working with them. The claim has not been independently verified.
“A lion in the martyrs’ brigades of al-Qaida Organization for Holy War in Iraq attacked a gathering of apostates seeking to return to the apostate police force in Mosul near the hospital,” al-Zarqawi’s group said in a statement posted on a Web site.
There was no mention of the attack in Baquba; no group has claimed responsibility for the deadly attack.
Also on Monday, insurgents shelled a police station in Mosul, killing at least three civilians, the Associated Press cited a police officer as saying.
Mosul, Iraq’s third largest city, has been the scene of daily insurgent attacks and fighting with U.S. troops and Iraqi security forces. Violence has increased there since the U.S. offensive in the former insurgent hub of Fallujah last November prompted many rebels to relocate their operations to northern cities.
Monday’s attacks were the latest evidence of the insurgents’ campaign to undermine the fledgling Iraqi security forces, which the United States wants to take a greater role once a newly elected government assumes office.
Meanwhile, election officials continued counting ballots cast in the Jan. 30 elections, when Iraqis chose a new National Assembly in the first nationwide balloting since the fall of Saddam Hussein in April 2003.
A final tally was expected by Thursday, but initial returns suggested a landslide for the Shiite Muslim candidates, with Iraq’s main two Kurdish parties moving into second place. Shiites are believed to represent about 60 percent of Iraq’s 26 million people, the AP reported.
The largely Shiite United Iraqi Alliance, which is backed by the country’s top Shiite clerics, has around 2.3 million votes, the Kurdish Alliance received about 1.1 million and the secular faction led by interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has around 620,000, Reuters reported.
In the Mosul area, 15,188 were unable to vote because of irregularities, Iraqi election commission officials said Monday. Gunmen looted some polling places, stealing ballot papers, commission official Izzedine Mahmoudi said.
Election officials also said the earlier returns showed that many Sunnis, estimated at 20 percent of the total population, stayed away from the polls in Salahediin province, a predominantly Sunni area north of Baghdad that includes Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit. Many are believed to have stayed home either out of fear of rebel reprisal or because of a call for a vote boycott by Sunni clerics, the AP reported.