BAGHDAD – A back-to-back car bombing targeting an ethnic minority in northern Iraq and militant attacks on Iraqi soldiers and police killed at least 20 people on Friday, officials said.
Since last year, militants have escalated attacks in Iraq, with violence surging to levels not seen since 2006 and 2007.
The double bombing struck in the morning in Tahrawa, a village inhabited by families from the Shabak ethnic group, killing seven members of the minority. The village is near the city of Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad. Police officials also said that 43 people were wounded in the explosions.
The Shabak have their own distinct language and belief system, which is an offshoot of Shiite Islam. Most live in villages east of Mosul, the provincial capital of the ethnically mixed Ninevah province, which is predominantly Sunni Muslim.
The Shabak have been targeted in the past by Sunni extremists, who consider them apostates. A car bombing in April in another Shabak village near Mosul, Bay Boukh, killed nine.
Also Friday, clashes broke out in Mosul after gunmen attempted to seize an army ammunition depot. The attack was repelled, but six soldiers were killed and five others were wounded, police said.
Also in Mosul, clashes in several neighborhoods left seven members of the security forces dead, along with 16 militants who tried to take control of some neighborhoods in the city. By the afternoon, the clashes died out and the militants were forced to withdraw from the city, according to police officials.
Nobody claimed responsibility for Friday's attacks, which came only a day after militants launched an assault on the Sunni-dominated city of Samarra north of Baghdad, killing seven members of the Iraqi security forces and setting off a day-long battle that eventually forced the attackers to retreat from the city.
Hospital officials confirmed the casualty toll from the day's attacks. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release details to journalists.
The militants in Iraq have stepped up attacks, empowered by fellow Sunni fighters' gains in neighboring Syria's civil war and exploiting the Iraqi Sunnis' anger over perceived discrimination at the hands of the Shiite-led government following a deadly crackdown by security forces on a Sunni protest camp last year.
An Al Qaeda splinter group, known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and other Sunni-led militant groups have strengthened their control over parts of Iraq's western Anbar province, including the city of Fallujah and parts of Ramadi, since late December. The government has made little if any progress in its campaign to dislodge them.
According to U.N. figures, 8,868 people were killed in Iraq in 2013. The U.N. mission said that May was the deadliest month so far this year, with 799 Iraqis killed in violence, including 603 civilians.