BAGHDAD — Bombers struck western Anbar province today in an apparent ambush of local leaders, killing at least 24 people and wounding 58 others, including the provincial governor whose goal was an economic renaissance in territory once controlled by insurgents.
The attack began at about 10 a.m. when a car bomb exploded at a busy intersection outside the Anbar government and police compound in the provincial capital of Ramadi, about 70 miles west of Baghdad. Policemen and taxi drivers were among the dead, authorities said.
The first explosion occurred just as Anbar Gov. Qasim al Fahdawi prepared to leave the compound for a ground-breaking on a new project in the city, said a member of his security detail, Iraqi Police Capt. Mazen al Dulaimy.
The governor insisted on visiting the blast scene over the objections of his bodyguards, Dulaimy said. A suicide bomber wearing an explosives vest walked up to Fahdawi's entourage and detonated a second explosion, killing Anbar’s deputy police commander and several officers, Anbar authorities said. Local TV stations initially reported that the governor was killed, but later amended their reports to say he’d suffered serious injuries.
A third bomb exploded on another side of the compound at about the same time as the first two blasts, authorities said, suggesting that insurgents had surrounded the building in an apparent strategy to target officials leaving from various exits.
“We thought the governor had died. We ran to him and found his face burned, and with other injuries all over his body,” Dulaimy said, adding that the security detail took the wounded official to a nearby military base where he was treated by U.S. medics.
For years, Anbar’s Sunni Muslim tribes and security forces have aided U.S. troops in the battle against al Qaida in Iraq, a mostly homegrown offshoot of the international terror network. Once most of the militants were killed or driven underground, however, the factions turned to internecine fighting for control of security forces and lucrative reconstruction contracts.
The rival camps accuse one another of insurgent infiltration, corruption and cronyism, fragmenting the Sunni political bloc ahead of elections in March.
“The city is moving toward destruction because of the parties who rule the province, from the head of the Anbar provincial council to the Anbar police commander.
The issue is a power struggle that’s resulted in the return of terrorists to the city,” said Sheikh Raed al Sabah, a prominent Ramadi tribal leader who helped to organize tribesmen into U.S.-backed Sunni militias as part of the “Awakening” movement.
Special correspondent Naji reported from Fallujah. Allam reported from Baghdad.