March 12, 2014
Iraq violence kills 54 in run-up to Shi'ite holy day
Suicide bombers and gunmen killed at least 54 people in Iraq today, medical and police sources said, in attacks mostly targeting Shi'ite Muslims, who mark a big religious festival next week.
Al Qaeda-linked Sunni Muslim militants have intensified attacks on the security forces, civilians and anyone seen as supporting the Shi'ite-led government in Baghdad, tipping Iraq back into its deadliest levels of violence in five years.
In Baiji, 180 km (112 miles) north of Baghdad, four men wearing explosive belts took over a police station after detonating a car bomb parked outside, police sources said.
Two blew themselves up inside the station, killing five policemen. The other two did the same about an hour later as Iraqi special forces counter-attacked, the sources said.
"We believe the attack was aimed at freeing detainees who are being held in the building next door," said Major Salih al-Qaisi, a police officer at the scene.
"All the militants were killed before they reached the police department building where the detainees are held."
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but suicide bombings are the trademark of al Qaeda's Iraqi wing, which merged this year with its Syrian counterpart to form the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Two hours later, three suicide bombers seized the local council building in Tikrit, 150 km (95 miles) north of the capital, after setting off two car bombs outside, security sources said. At least three people were killed.
Security forces surrounded the building, where the militants were thought to be holding hostages, and imposed a curfew on the city, the sources said.
The Interior Ministry put the toll for the attacks in Baiji and Tikrit at 11 dead, including the suicide bombers, and three wounded.