A car bomber wearing a police uniform killed at least 15 traffic policemen and wounded 100 others Monday during morning roll call at a police headquarters in this oil-rich northern Kurdish city, the second such attack in as many days.
The bombing that ripped through the police facility was one in a series attacks, including at least five homicide car bombings, that swept Iraq Monday. Authorities reported 37 people died in attacks nationwide in the ongoing militant offensive that has killed nearly 1,200 in less than two months.
On Sunday, a bomber walked into a Baghdad kebab restaurant popular with policemen and blew himself up, killing 23 people, including seven officers.
"Most of the attacks targeting the Iraqi security forces, including the police, are launched by Islamic fundamentalists," said Sabah Kadhim, an Interior Ministry spokesman. "Iraq has become the center of global terrorism, and those groups' attacks are aiming to create a sectarian crisis. Their main aim is to keep the country in chaos."
Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (search), who leads Al Qaeda in Iraq (search), purportedly gave his stamp of approval in an audiotaped message last month to the killing of fellow Muslims and civilians collaborating with the Shiite-led government and the United States.
Extremists have in recent weeks mostly targeted the Iraqi security forces at the forefront of government counterinsurgency operations — both in an effort to shatter their morale and prevent recruits from signing up.
Sunni Arabs make up the core of Iraq's insurgency, and the minority has felt politically embittered by the rise of the Shiites and the Kurds — two communities that account for about 80 percent of the country's estimated 26 million people. Many Sunni Arabs boycotted January's historic elections.
"Terrorist groups try to stand against Iraq's political process," Irbil Gov. Nowzat Hadi (search) told reporters. "Terrorists are trying to harm the Kurdish region because it is a secure place, and because Irbil represents the political center of Kurdistan."
Irbil and nearby Sulaimaniyah are two key cities in Iraq's northern Kurdish region, which has enjoyed autonomous rule since 1991. The area has been largely sheltered from the violence wracking the remainder of Iraq, but has seen several major bombings blamed on militant groups.
Monday's attack in Irbil was the largest in a day of violence that saw at least 37 people killed — mostly Iraqi policemen and soldiers. One U.S. soldier was killed by a roadside bomb in northern Iraq.
The number of insurgent attacks has escalated since Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari announced his Shiite-led government on April 28. At least 1,189 people have been killed since then, according to an Associated Press count based on military, police and hospital reports.
Some extremists have also started threatening fellow Sunni Arabs because some of the minority's leaders have expressed a readiness to join the political process.
Sunni Arabs submitted a list of 15 candidates for a Shiite-dominated committee drafting Iraq's constitution Sunday, but were having second thoughts Monday about a demand made by legislators that the group be endorsed by representatives of the entire community. The snag could delay the constitutional process, further eroding the little time left for the charter to be drafted by mid-August.
A U.S.-led offensive dubbed Operation Spear ended Monday. It was launched last week with 1,000 Marines and Iraqi soldiers in western Anbar province to ebb the flow of foreign fighters entering from Syria. The four-day campaign in the border city of Karabilah, 200 miles west of Baghdad, killed about 60 insurgents. One Marine also died.
"The operation was very successful because we cleaned out some insurgent weapons caches, we found evidence of lots of foreign fighter involvement, and we fully integrated with the Iraqi security forces," said Marine Lt. Col Tim Mundy of Waynesville, N.C., who commanded the operation.
Operation Spear ran in conjunction with Operation Dagger, a similar engagement north of Baghdad.
Intelligence officials believe Anbar province is a portal for extremist groups, including Al Qaeda in Iraq, to smuggle in foreign fighters. Syria is under pressure from Washington and Baghdad to tighten control of its porous 380-mile border with Iraq.
Elsewhere, a band of insurgents launched a bold assault on a Baghdad police station killing at least eight policemen and an 8-month-old baby early Monday, police said. At least 23 people were wounded.
The attack on the Baya police station began just before dawn and included two car bombs, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire, police Capt. Talib Thamir said.
In a separate attack Monday, a homicide car bomber ripped through a convoy carrying a Kurdish town's security director, killing him and three bodyguard, said Anwar Kokoyei, a senior official of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan political party.
The attacked happened in Halabja, the same town where Saddam Hussein and other former regime officials will face trial for their alleged roles in a 1998 poison gas attack that killed at least 5,000 people.
Another car bomber rammed into an Iraqi army checkpoint in Kirkuk, killing five soldiers and wounding three Monday evening, army and police officers said.
Gunmen killed three members of the Kurdish Peshmerga militia Monday near a camp in the western town of Hit, Dr. Muhanad Jawad said from the capital, where the bodies were brought. Hit is 85 miles west of Baghdad.
Millions of Baghdad residents went without city water for a second day Monday following a rocket attack on a water pipeline and city officials said the shortage could stretch into a third day.
Amir Ali Hasson, a spokesman for the Baghdad mayor's office, said repairs would be completed by late Tuesday.
Insurgents have frequently hit infrastructure around the country in a bid to destabilize the government.