Page last updated at 15:56 GMT, Thursday, 18 February 2010

Iraqi city of Ramadi rocked by deadly blast


The aftermath of the bomb attack in Ramadi

At least 11 people have been killed and 20 hurt in a suicide bombing in the Iraqi city of Ramadi, officials say.

The car bomb attack in the capital of Iraq's western Anbar province occurred at a checkpoint near government offices and courts, police said.

Hospital officials told AFP news agency that four policemen and a young girl were among those killed.

Elsewhere, in the northern city of Mosul a car bomb exploded near a police building, injuring over 20 people.

Security and medical officials told AFP that the injured included 15 police.

Violence has been rising as Iraq prepares for a March general election, with Ramadi targeted more than once.

In late December, twin suicide blasts in the city killed 25 people and severely injured regional governor Qassim Mohammed.

Three co-ordinated explosions last October left at least 22 people dead and many more injured.

They are trying to undermine the political process and prevent us from taking part in the election
Mohammed Dulaimi
Ramadi restaurant owner

A doctor at Ramadi general hospital told AFP that 10 bodies had been taken in so far following Thursday's bombing.

But the total number of casualties remained unclear, with security officials saying at least 11 people had died.

The owner of a restaurant badly damaged by the explosion told AFP the attackers wanted to deter people from voting on 7 March.

"They are trying to undermine the political process and prevent us from taking part in the election," Mohammed Dulaimi said.

Sectarian fears

Campaigning for the election began last week, amid a continuing row over a ban on scores of candidates that could increase tension between Shia and Sunni Iraqis.

Until 2007, the Sunni insurgency was strong in Anbar province.

Local Sunni tribes and their followers then turned against the militants and began co-operating with the Iraqi government and US forces.

But after a period of relative calm, the province is again suffering from mounting violence.

The US - which still has 100,000 troops in Iraq - fears that if the election lacks credibility among Sunni voters, the country could slide back into sectarian violence.

The US is preparing to withdraw large numbers of troops by the middle of this year.

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