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Iraq

Al Qaeda claims responsibility for Iraq justice ministry attack

The Islamic State of Iraq, an al Qaeda-linked militant group, has claimed responsibility for Thursday’s attack on the Iraqi Justice Ministry. Meanwhile, two car bombs have been detonated in the southern city of Basra.

Al Qaeda's affiliate in Iraq on Sunday justified the assault based on sectarian grounds, claiming that the Justice Ministry "was always a tool against Sunnis, torturing, terrifying and imprisoning and executing them."

Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) militants detonated three car bombs and two suicide bombs on Thursday in Baghdad's Allawi neighborhood, near the heavily fortified Green Zone where the British and American embassies are located.

As the bombs were detonated, militants stormed the Justice Ministry, clashing with security forces. Conflicting reports indicate that one or both of the suicide bombers detonated explosives inside the building. The attack killed at least 23 people and wounded dozens more, according to police officials. ISI claims 60 people died in the assault.

Attacks by al Qaeda-linked groups have been on the rise in Iraq since last summer, raising concern that Iraq could sink back into the sectarian violence that nearly tore the country apart between 2006 and 2008. In February, some 220 people died in attacks nationwide, according to a tally by the AFP news agency.

Attacks in Basra

In the southern port city of Basra, a car bomb was detonated near an outdoor market on Sunday, killing at least nine people, according to Ali Ghanim, the head of the city’s security committee. Fifteen minutes later, another car bomb went off in a parking lot near the tax department. Some 24 people were injured in the attacks.

Nobody has claimed responsibility for the Basra attacks.

Sunni-Shiite tensions

The Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki faces an increasingly restless Sunni minority population in western Iraq, where protests against the government are staged on a regular basis. ISI has called on the protesters to take up arms against Baghdad.

Security experts have said that al Qaeda-linked militants are regrouping in Anbar Province, once the heartland of Iraq's vicious insurgency. The militants are supposedly crossing into Syria to help the rebels there in their fight against President Bashar al-Assad.

Meanwhile, the Britain-based Iraq Body Count (IBC) group on Sunday published a study that claimed at least 112,017 civilians have been killed in Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion, which toppled the executed Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein.

"This conflict is not yet history," IBC wrote in its study. "It remains entrenched and pervasive, with a clear beginning but no foreseeable end, and very much a part of the present in Iraq."

slk/hc (AFP, Reuters)