International concerns grow over protracted surge of violence in Iraq
Attacks in Baghdad and north Iraq killed nine people Monday as France joined the list of countries offering help in combatting a protracted surge in bloodshed months ahead of elections.
The rise in violence, which has left more than 150 people dead in the past week alone, has fuelled fears Iraq is on the brink of falling back into the brutal Sunni-Shiite sectarian war that plagued it years ago.
Officials have also voiced concern over a resurgent Al-Qaeda emboldened by the civil war in neighbouring Syria, which has provided jihadist fighters in Iraq with rear bases to plan operations.
Attacks on Monday struck the capital and predominantly Sunni Arab areas of north Iraq that have borne the brunt of the worsening unrest, which has killed more than 5,900 people this year.
In Monday's deadliest attack, a car bomb targeting a police station in Baghdad's northeastern outskirts killed four policemen, security and medical sources said, while a roadside bomb targeting Sahwa anti-Qaeda militiamen killed one fighter and wounded four others.
From late 2006 onwards, Sunni tribal militias, known as the Sahwa, turned against their co-religionists in Al-Qaeda and sided with the US military, helping to turn the tide of Iraq's insurgency.
But Sunni militants view them as traitors and frequently target them.
Also on Monday, three separate attacks in the capital killed three people, among them a justice ministry employee.
In the northern city of Mosul, meanwhile, a magnetic "sticky bomb" attached to a car killed its driver, while police found the body of a woman who was shot dead the previous night near the restive city of Tikrit.
The government and security forces have insisted that raids and operations across much of western and northern Iraq, areas dominated by the country's Sunni minority, are having an impact.
But diplomats, analysts and human rights groups say the government is not doing enough to address the root causes of the unrest, particularly disquiet among minority Sunnis over alleged mistreatment at the hands of the Shiite-led authorities.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki nevertheless used a recent trip to Washington to push for greater intelligence sharing and the timely delivery of new weapons systems in a bid to combat militants.
Turkey has also pledged to help, and France on Monday offered weapons, training and intelligence cooperation.
"We are absolutely willing to help Iraq in its fight against terrorism, in terms of equipment, training, intelligence, and care for the wounded," French Ambassador to Baghdad Denys Gauer said in a speech marking the visit of a French trade delegation to Iraq.
Asked after his speech, which he gave at the Rasheed Hotel in Baghdad's heavily-fortified Green Zone, if that help included the sale of weapons, Gauer responded: "Yes, of course."
Iraq has thus far made its biggest purchases of weapons systems from the United States and Russia, but with the country looking to modernise and expand a struggling military, it is likely to be a major arms buyer in the years to come.
The latest violence comes with Iraq due to hold parliamentary elections on April 30, its first such polls in four years.