Iraq December Toll Down Despite Wave of Unrest

Protesters chant slogans against Iraq's Shiite-led government in Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad on Sunday, Dec. 30, 2012. Gunshots wounded at least two people Sunday at demonstrations in western Iraq. (AP Photo)
Protesters chant slogans against Iraq's Shiite-led government in Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad on Sunday, Dec. 30, 2012. Gunshots wounded at least two people Sunday at demonstrations in western Iraq. (AP Photo)

Deadly violence in Iraq dropped to near its lowest levels of 2012 in December, figures compiled by AFP showed on Tuesday, despite a wave of attacks a day earlier which killed 23 people.

Overall, 139 people were killed across the country last month, including 40 policemen and 15 soldiers, and 347 others were wounded, according to the data based on reports from security and medical officials.

The monthly death toll was near 2012's low of 136 set in October.

But in a sign insurgents were still capable of carrying out deadly nationwide attacks, a series of shootings and bombings in the north, centre, and south of the country killed 23 people and wounded 83 others on Monday.

No group immediately claimed responsibility, but Sunni militants such as Al-Qaeda's front group in Iraq regularly target officials and security forces in a bid to destabilise the government, and also often attack Shiite pilgrims.

The violence comes after anti-government protesters blocked a key highway to Syria and Jordan, amid political tensions between Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and a secular Sunni-backed party in his fragile national unity government.

Much of Monday's violence targeted Shiite pilgrims, ahead of Arbaeen commemoration ceremonies due this week.

In the deadliest attack, seven people -- three women, two children and two men -- were killed when three houses were blown up in the town of Mussayib, south of Baghdad, police and a medic said. Four others were wounded.

The victims were apparently targeted because they were Shiites, the officials said.

Attacks on Shiite pilgrims embarking on the traditional walk to the holy shrine city of Karbala for Arbaeen commemorations also killed one person and wounded 19 others.

Arbaeen marks 40 days after the Ashura anniversary commemorating the slaying of Imam Hussein, one of Shiite Islam's most revered figures, by the armies of the caliph Yazid in 680 AD.

Sunni militants often use the rituals as an opportunity to increase attacks against Shiites.

Attacks in Baghdad and north of the city, meanwhile, killed 13 people.

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