A suicide car bomb exploded on Thursday outside the gate of the main government compound in the capital of Iraq's Anbar province, killing at least 13 people, including four police, a health official said.
The attacker detonated his explosive-packed car at the compound housing the governor's office, police headquarters and courts in downtown Ramadi.
The province, where al-Qaida-backed Sunni insurgents once held sway, has seen a rise in attacks against security forces and government officials in recent months. The incident also comes amid fears that next month's elections will stoke political violence. The blast also wounded at least 26 people, said Dr. Khudhair Khalaf, the director of the provincial health authority. Debris from the car bomb could be seen strewn on the bloodstained pavement in front of the compound, along with slippers and a red-checkered traditional tribal headdress. The force of the explosion damaged two civilian cars and a police vehicle and shattered the windows of a nearby restaurant.
Anbar was the site of some of the war's most intense fighting between U.S. forces and insurgents in the key cities of Ramadi and Fallujah, though the province is comparatively peaceful now. The government compound in Ramadi was once the scene of daily attacks during the height of the insurgency in 2005 and 2006, with the governor hunkered down in his office protected by a platoon of U.S. Marines while insurgent mortar shells rained down.
By the end of 2006, many former insurgents began to rebel against al-Qaida, and joined forces with the U.S. military, who paid fighters to participate in pro-government Awakening Councils. Despite an overall decline in violence, insurgents still regularly attack security forces and government officials. Twenty-two people were wounded Thursday when a parked car bomb exploded near an Iraqi police convoy in Mosul, 225 miles (360 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, a police official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.
U.S. and Iraqi officials have warned of a possible spike in attacks ahead of the election, and Iraq has ratcheted up security in Baghdad and other potential trouble hotspots in the run-up to the polls.
In the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, 180 miles (290 kilometers) north of Baghdad, Iraqi, U.S. and Kurdish troops have been jointly conducting "pre-emptive" raids against suspected insurgents ahead of the vote, said police Brig. Gen. Sarhad Qadir, an operations field commander.
Qadir said 26 people have been detained in raids that began 10 days ago.
Also Thursday, Iraqi security officials said they have arrested eight people for allegedly ripping down campaign posters that are plastered across Baghdad. They face up to a year in jail under an elections law that is being enforced for the first time since Saddam was ousted in 2003.
Vandals have also torn down posters promoting Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in the southern Iraqi cities of Basra and Amarah. Thursday's bombings underscore the insurgents' ability to hit the government despite the security clampdown. They also come amid escalating political tensions in the country since a government-backed vetting committee banned hundreds of candidates with ties to Saddam's outlawed Baath Party from running in the March elections.
Gen. Raymond Odierno, the top American commander in Iraq, said earlier this week the U.S. has intelligence that links two senior Iraqi officials overseeing the work of the committee _ Ahmed Chalabi and Ali al-Lami _ to Iran.
Chalabi denied the allegations in a campaign speech Thursday to supporters in Baghdad.
"I would say his (Odierno's) statements are unfounded," Chalabi told supporters. "The fact that he continues to try to attack me and Mr. Ali al-Lami for a relationship with various bodies in Iran is unhelpful."
Chalabi also said he has political relationships with authorities in a number of countries that have an interest in Iraq.