Fallujah, Iraq – Suicide bombers struck outside government offices in western Iraq on Monday morning, killing 14 people and wounding dozens in a pair of attacks that were the deadliest since Iraq’s new government was announced last week.
The attacks in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, 60 miles west of Baghdad, marked the second time this month that the provincial government offices were targeted.
It was the first major attack since Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki assumed temporary control of national security matters. In announcing his new Cabinet last week, Maliki left open the sensitive posts of the ministers of defense, interior and national security, saying he needed several more weeks to vet candidates.
Witnesses said that a driver detonated a car bomb at a security checkpoint near the entrance to the provincial government headquarters at around 9 a.m. A few minutes later, after people had gathered at the blast site, a man who was wearing a police uniform exploded a suicide vest, targeting the crowd.
Hospital officials in Ramadi said that six of the dead were police officers or Iraqi soldiers. The death toll was likely to rise; many of the at least 53 wounded were in serious condition.
Muhammed Kerdoss al Zobai, 45, said he’d just reached the site of the first blast — where rescue workers had gathered and were carrying away bodies — when the second explosion shook the ground.
“I was swept off my feet and came crashing to the ground,” Zobai said. “I got up and started home without looking back.”
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.
Anbar province was a hotbed of the Sunni Muslim Arab insurgency at the start of the Iraq War but had calmed in recent years, after local tribesmen turned against the insurgent group al Qaida in Iraq and joined up with the U.S. military.
In recent months, however, Sunni militants have targeted Iraqi government and security outposts periodically, and were responsible for the shocking assault Oct. 31 on a church in Baghdad, which left 58 dead.
Monday’s attack occurred on the day that a new provincial police chief took office. The previous chief was deposed after several security breaches, including a suicide car bombing outside the same government building Dec. 12, which killed about a dozen people.
Naji is a McClatchy special correspondent.