Deadly attacks target security personnel in Iraq
Gunmen killed 12 Iraqi policemen and soldiers on Saturday while a truck bomb hit a southern port, the latest in a surge in violence that authorities have failed to curb.
Security forces have in recent weeks carried out some of their biggest operations since the 2011 withdrawal of US forces, but analysts and diplomats have said authorities have not addressed the root causes of the violence.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has nevertheless vowed to press on with the campaign in a bid to combat Iraq's worst violence since 2008, and on Saturday the interior ministry's spokesman announced the killing of an alleged senior Al-Qaeda-linked militant.
In Saturday's deadliest attack, gunmen opened fire on an army post in the town of Madain, just southeast of Baghdad, in a pre-dawn strike that left five soldiers dead and three others wounded, police and a medical source said.
Among the dead was a lieutenant colonel. The gunmen fled after the attack, and security forces, who cordoned off the scene, launched a manhunt.
North of Baghdad, militants shot dead four police who were buying ice near the city of Tikrit.
Security forces often purchase large blocks of ice to distribute to nearby checkpoints in order to cope with Iraq's sweltering summer heat.
In another attack north of the capital, gunmen killed three soldiers in the restive Muqdadiyah area of Diyala province.
And in the far south, a truck rigged with explosives blew up in the parking lot of the port of Umm Qasr, wounding three people and damaging a docked ship and several nearby trucks.
The port's operations were not affected, however, a spokesman said.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks, but Sunni militants linked to Al-Qaeda and opposed to the Shiite-led government frequently carry out attacks against security forces.
Attacks have killed more than 3,480 people since the beginning of 2013, according to figures.
US Secretary of State John Kerry warned on Thursday that Iraq risked destabilisation from extremists as civil war flared in neighbouring Syria, telling reporters that the country faced "increasingly turbulent, violent and unpredictable" regional currents.
"Sunni and Shia extremists on both sides of the sectarian divide throughout the region have an ability to be able to threaten Iraq's stability if they're not checked," he said.
Analysts and diplomats attribute the increased violence in recent months to anger in the Sunni Arab community over its alleged ill treatment at the hands of the Shiite-led authorities, thereby giving Sunni militant groups room to recruit and carry out attacks.
Security forces have been carrying out wide-ranging operations in multiple provinces including Baghdad, after brazen July assaults on two prisons, claimed by an Al-Qaeda front group.
Maliki has said more than 800 alleged militants have been arrested and dozens killed in the operations.
Interior ministry spokesman Brigadier General Saad Maan said on Saturday that security forces had killed a top Al-Qaeda militant in Tikrit and detained two of his aides.
He did not identify the man who was killed.