Church hit and election candidate killed in Iraq attacks

By Mujahid Mohammed (AFP) –
MOSUL, Iraq — A pre-Christmas attack on a church killed two people in the Iraqi city of Mosul Wednesday while a Sunni Arab candidate died in a bombing in Fallujah, the first such murder ahead of March polls.

They were among 13 people killed in violence across the country, despite security forces ramping up their presence ahead of Christmas and the Shiite commemoration ceremonies of Ashura.

In Mosul, two people were killed and five others wounded Wednesday morning when “a handcart used to carry flour, left across the street from the Syrian Orthodox church of St Thomas, exploded,” witness Hamis Paulos said.

A hospital official in the main northern city said the two people killed were Muslims, based on examination of their identity papers.

“Christians are being targeted during Christmas time — the security forces, police and army must provide security, the police and army are responsible for this,” said Father Abdul Massih Dalmay of the church.

“Is the number of security forces not enough? There is negligence on the part of the security forces.”

The attack was the sixth on Christians in Mosul in less than a month, and came after the army said it put its forces on alert in areas with significant Christian populations because of intelligence they could be attacked.

In the former rebel bastion of Fallujah, a Sunni Arab candidate for parliamentary elections on March 7 was killed in a “sticky bomb” attack.

Saud al-Essawi of the Iraqi Unity Alliance (IUA) and his two bodyguards were killed when a magnetic bomb attached to his car exploded in the city, 50 kilometres (30 miles) west of Baghdad.

The IUA is a multi-confessional grouping led by Ahmed Abu Risha, a key Sunni leader who turned against Al-Qaeda to play a major role in reversing Iraq’s insurgency, and current interior minister Jawad al-Bolani, an independent Shiite.

Iraqi political leaders and senior American generals have expressed concerns in recent months about violence linked to the election.

The security situation in Fallujah has improved dramatically in recent years.

Since 2006, Sunni tribesmen and former rebels, known as the Sahwa (Awakening) movement, have made common cause with the US military against Al-Qaeda, greatly reducing the jihadists’ presence in the area.

In Baghdad, violence killed six people, including three men at a Shiite mourning ceremony as worshippers were participating in Ashura rituals.

Twenty-eight others were wounded, including four women and five children, in the bomb attack in the east Baghdad neighbourhood of Mashtal, a police officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Another person was killed and four wounded by a bomb at a Shiite mosque in the capital’s central shopping district of Karrada, police said.

Security officials have said they will increase their presence during Ashura, which in the past has been used by Sunni extremists to target Shiites. In the holy shrine cities of Karbala and Najaf, for example, 46,000 policemen and soldiers will be out in force.

Also in Baghdad, Brigadier General Riad Abdel Majid, an inspector for the defence ministry, was killed by “unknown persons who opened fire on him while he was in front of his house,” an official said a day after the attack.

A magnetic “sticky bomb” affixed to a minibus in the predominantly Shiite north Baghdad district of Kadhimiyah killed one person and wounded three at around midday (0900 GMT) on Wednesday, a police official said.

Outside of Baquba city, northeast of Baghdad, two Sahwa militiamen, including local Awakening leader Adnan Serhid, were killed by a roadside bomb, according to a policeman who did not want to be named.

The Sahwa, known as the “Sons of Iraq” by the US army, joined American and Iraqi forces to wage war in 2006 and 2007 against Al-Qaeda and its supporters, leading to a dramatic fall in violence.

Attacks still remain common however in Baghdad, Mosul and some other areas.