Local residents gather at the site of a car bomb explosion in the Hurriyah neighborhood of the Iraqi capital Baghdad on Feb. 3, 2014.AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images
A new series of car bombings in and around Baghdad on Monday killed at least 23 people, officials said, as Iraq’s Shia-led government grapples with a stubborn Sunni extremist-led insurgency in the western Anbar province.
Eight people were killed in two separate car bombs on Monday — one of which was detonated by a suicide attacker — in the town of Mahmudiyah, just south of in the Iraqi capital.
Five others were killed by vehicles rigged with explosives in the Baghdad neighborhoods of Baladiyat and Hurriyah.
A further three explosions — one in Sadr City and two in Abu Disheer — on Monday evening killed 10 people and injured 20.
In western Baghdad, also on Monday, police found the bodies of three men and one woman who were all killed by bullets to the head, officials said.
And in another incident, two soldiers were killed in clashes with armed men in Baquba, a city 40 miles northeast of Baghdad, a military source said.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks but coordinated bombings bear the hallmarks of Al-Qaeda's affiliate in Iraq. The group, emboldened by the successes of its fellow militants in the civil war next door in Syria and by widespread Sunni anger at the Iraqi government, has taken credit for previous attacks against Shias, security forces and government buildings.
Meanwhile, in Iraq’s western Anbar province, fierce fighting has been raging for over a month between government forces and allied tribal militiamen on one side, and Al-Qaeda-linked militants on the other.
Also on Monday, a Defense Ministry statement said military operations overnight in Ramadi killed 57 militants. The statement didn’t say whether the militants were killed in clashes or airstrikes. In Fallujah, security forces are still besieging the city, with sporadic clashes taking place on its outskirts.
There was no independent verification of the toll among the Sunni Arab fighters occupying the city, said to be members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a group also fighting in the civil war in neighboring Syria.
ISIL fighters and other Sunni groups angered by the Shia Muslim-led Baghdad government took over Fallujah and parts of the nearby city of Ramadi on Jan. 1.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has held back from an all-out assault on Fallujah to give time for a negotiated way out of the standoff, but mediation efforts appear to have failed.
Troops intensified shelling of Fallujah late on Sunday and security officials said a ground assault would follow soon.
A resident of Fallujah said many families had moved to the city's western districts because other areas were being shelled, and the army was battling fighters in the north.
Maliki has appealed for international support and weapons to fight Al-Qaeda, although critics say his own policies towards Iraq's once-dominant Sunni community are at least partly to blame for reviving an insurgency that had peaked in 2006-07.
Last year was Iraq's bloodiest since 2008, according to the U.N., and the violence monitoring group Iraq Body Count has said more than 1,000 people were killed in January alone.