Iraq wakes up to deadly suicide bombing near Baghdad
A suicide bomber killed 21 people, including two state television employees, at a checkpoint near Baghdad Sunday, after Iraq's premier accused Riyadh and Doha of fuelling bloodshed in the country.
Iraq has been hit by a year-long surge in violence that has reached levels not seen since 2008, driven principally by widespread discontent among its Sunni Arab minority and by the civil war in neighbouring Syria.
Analysts and diplomats have urged Iraq's Shiite-led authorities to reach out to disaffected Sunnis but with elections due next month, political leaders have not wanted to be seen to compromise and have instead pursued a hard line against militants.
The suicide bomber detonated an explosives-rigged minibus during morning rush hour at a checkpoint at the northern entrance to Hilla, the confessionally-mixed but mostly-Shiite capital of Babil province south of Baghdad.
The attack killed 21 people and left 120 others wounded, a provincial councillor, police and a doctor said.
"Some of the victims were burned inside their cars," a police officer said.
Iraqiya state television said two of its employees, Muthanna Abdulhussein and Khaled Abed Thamer, were among the dead.
Militants carry out frequent attacks on security forces, and also target areas where crowds of people gather. The checkpoint combined the two.
In Abu Ghraib, west of Baghdad, gunmen shot dead at least two soldiers and wounded one at an army checkpoint, while three attacks north of Baghdad killed a police colonel and two policemen.
In an interview broadcast on Saturday, Maliki accused Saudi Arabia and Qatar of backing militant groups in Iraq and said they have effectively declared war on the country.
The two Sunni Gulf states "are attacking Iraq, through Syria and in a direct way, and they announced war on Iraq, as they announced it on Syria, and unfortunately it is on a sectarian and political basis," the prime minister told France 24 television.
"These two countries are primarily responsible for the sectarian and terrorist and security crisis of Iraq."
Saudi Arabia and Qatar have emerged as regional rivals because, while both have provided support to fighters opposed to embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the two countries have also sparred in recent weeks over Doha's support for the Muslim Brotherhood of deposed Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi.
Baghdad has long complained that support for militant groups fighting in Syria's civil war finds its way through to Iraq with weapons in particular ending up in the hands of jihadists.
Maliki said in the interview that Riyadh and Doha were providing political, financial and media support to militant groups and accused them of "buying weapons for the benefit of these terrorist organisations".
And he accused Saudi Arabia of supporting global "terrorism."
He condemned "the dangerous Saudi stance" of supporting "terrorism in the world -- it supports it in Syria and Iraq and Lebanon and Egypt and Libya, and even in countries outside" the Arab world.
Violence in Iraq has reached a level not seen since 2008, when the country was just emerging from a brutal period of sectarian killings in which tens of thousands of people died.
The violence has killed more than 130 people so far this month and over 1,850 since the beginning of the year, according to figures based on security and medical sources.