Baghdad hit by multiple bombings
Multiple bombings in the Iraqi capital have killed at least 19 people and wounded 36 as Iraqi forces continued preparing for a large-scale operation to recapture the city of Tikrit from the Islamic State group.
The deadliest bombing struck a busy commercial street Monday in the Habibiya section of Baghdad's Sadr City, killing at least nine people and wounding 22, officials said.
Another bombing, at a vegetable market in the Tarabya section of Baghdad, killed at least six people and wounded 14.
Earlier Monday in northwestern Baghdad, police say a bomb detonated near an intelligence branch of the Interior Ministry, killing four people — a couple and their two children.
Hospital officials have corroborated the casualty figures. All officials spoke anonymously as they are not authorized to brief the media.
Baghdad has enjoyed relative calm in recent months as compared to the sectarian bloodshed that gripped the city in 2006 and 2007. While no one has claimed responsibility for Monday's attack, IS has claimed a number of recent bombings in the past.
Iraqi security forces remain on the outskirts of the northern city of Tikrit, the hometown of Saddam Hussein, awaiting a final push into the city.
Military officials said they have opted not to rush the final assault in an effort to minimise casualties and to ensure that the city's infrastructure is safeguarded.
However, the head of a powerful Shia militia on Sunday criticised "weaklings" in the Iraqi army who want US-led air strikes to support the massive operation to retake Tikrit from fighters.
The remarks by Hadi al-Ameri point to a possible divide between the Iraqi army and allied paramilitaries known as "Popular Mobilisation" units, which are dominated by Shia militia forces, over the now-stalled Tikrit drive.
"Some of the weaklings in the army say we need the Americans, while we say we do not need the Americans," Ameri told journalists at Camp Ashraf, north of Baghdad, when asked about US-led air support for Tikrit.
Army Staff Lieutenant General Abdulwahab al-Saadi, a top commander in Salaheddin province, of which Tikrit is the capital, said that he had requested such strikes against the Islamic State group and that they were needed.
Forces from the army, the police and a number of Popular Mobilisation groups are taking part in the operation, bringing different tactics, skill levels and willingness to take casualties to the fight.
It is unclear who if anyone has overall command of the Tikrit operation, and disputes between the forces involved would hamper an effort that has already become bogged down by the huge number of bombs planted by IS in the city's streets and houses.
While pro-government forces were able to take control of towns near Tikrit and then surround it, fighting to clear the city itself proved much more difficult. The operation has been halted for now with IS fighters besieged.
Ameri said Sunday that bombardment of the city is ongoing, and that "we will not enter Tikrit until after the completion of the necessary preparations," which relate to equipment, not personnel.
Iraqi officials have repeatedly said that the halt to the Tikrit operation is due to a desire to limit casualties among security forces and civilians, as well as damage to buildings and infrastructure.