Staggered explosions killed 23 people – 13 of them policemen – and injured the governor of Anbar today, the worst violence in months to hit the western province as it struggles to stamp out the al Qaida insurgency.
Anbar is seen as strategically important because it was once the heartland of support for al Qaida militants before American officials paid Iraqi fighters to join a pro-government force.
The governor is the most senior Sunni leader to be attacked since then.
Police official Lt Col Imad al-Fahdawi said two bombs exploded in Anbar’s capital of Ramadi, 70 miles (115 kilometres) west of Baghdad. He said a suicide bomber in a car caused the first blast near a checkpoint on the main road near the provincial administration buildings.
Governor Qassim al-Fahdawi, the deputy police chief and other officials went to inspect the damage, the police official said, when a suicide bomber on foot detonated a vest full of explosives nearby.
The deputy police chief was killed and the governor and other officials wounded.
Police have now imposed a curfew.
Mohammed Fathi, a spokesman for the governor, told Al-Arabiyah news channel: “For the last three months, Anbar has not seen any incidents, whether blasts or sabotage. The province has been witnessing a considerable period of security during which investment and reconstruction opportunities have arisen.
“This violence is done by those who want to hamper rebuilding in Anbar.”
Dr Ahmed Abid Mohammed said 23 people had been killed and 57 injured. He said the governor had suffered burns on his face, injuries to his abdomen and other areas.
American forces were helping evacuate casualties, establish security and forensic investigation, said military spokesman Lt Col Curtis Hill.
There are 18 provincial governors in Iraq. Anbar is primarily Sunni, the same sect of Islam as former dictator Saddam Hussein. The province was the former stronghold of the insurgency before the US military began paying fighters to participate in the pro-government Sons of Iraq program, also known as the Awakening Council.
The Sons of Iraq are widely credited with helping stabilise the country after joining up with US and Iraqi forces in the anti al Qaida drive about three years ago. But they have been hit by a steady barrage of revenge attacks since then and five of them were killed at a checkpoint yesterday in central Iraq.