Reporting from Baghdad and Ramadi, Iraq — A suicide bomb attack Wednesday in Anbar province's capital killed 25 people and wounded 100, including the governor. The attack raised fears that the devastating bloodletting that swept western Iraq several years ago may be returning.
Gov. Qassim Fahdawi had rushed to the scene of an earlier car bombing in Ramadi and was preparing to leave the site when the suicide bomber struck. The blast killed the governor's security advisor and wounded Fahdawi and at least one other member of the provincial council.
The attacker probably was a member of Fahdawi's own security detail, several officials said.
There were contradictory reports on whether two car bombs had exploded in the area before the suicide bomber walked up to Fahdawi and his entourage.
"We [started] to walk back to the office, and while we were walking, we felt an explosion come from the middle of us. . . . I did not see him coming because he was from the bodyguards," said a security officer who was there when the governor was attacked. "I know him, [but] I can't mention his name for security reasons."
The explosions evoked memories of the province's dark days from 2004 to '06, when Al Qaeda in Iraq turned Ramadi into a wasteland of blown-up buildings with only a Marine company to prevent the provincial capital's government center from being overrun.
Only after Sheik Abdul-Sattar abu Risha, a tribal leader, revolted against militants and created the U.S.-allied Awakening movement did the tide turn. Even with Abu Risha's assassination in September 2007, the province continued to move forward and was hailed as one of Iraq's success stories.
The bombings Wednesday followed a steady increase in the number of attacks this fall, mainly assassinations, around the province's other main city, Fallouja, and the town of Abu Ghraib, between the province and Baghdad.
Tribal leaders said Wednesday that Anbar had entered a new period of bloodshed as the March national elections approach. They said they feared that Al Qaeda in Iraq would try to capitalize on tribal and political rivalries to reassert itself.
"The relative calm after the effort of Sheik Abu Risha in my opinion is over, and I started to say that since April 2009," said Sheik Hatem Suleiman, one of the most senior tribal leaders in the province. "In my opinion, it is the negligence of the officials and the tribal sheiks of Anbar. They underestimated the matter. Al Qaeda is still existing in Anbar."
Suleiman, a rival of the governor's party, blamed the province's political and tribal figures for being distracted by the quest to make money from reconstruction contracts, as well as by the competition for political power.
"When you see the negligence and the corruption in Anbar, and no action is taken, such incidents are expected," he said. "It is wrong to say that we are strong and that Al Qaeda is no longer here. Al Qaeda is still working and will work in the future."
A former insurgent still in contact with elements of armed groups said Wednesday's violence probably was the product of intense friction among Sunni Muslim political parties and figures in Anbar.
The former insurgent, who did not want to be named for security reasons, said that various elements in Anbar and Sunni political circles were willing to use Al Qaeda in Iraq if it helped them achieve their political interests and discredit Ahmed abu Risha, the head of the Sunni tribal movement around Ramadi and the late sheik's brother. Abu Risha's list won provincial elections and is running for national office in a partnership with Shiite politicians. The attack was designed "to weaken Abu Risha," the former insurgent said.
Another factor in the security deterioration is thought to be the tense relationship between the national government and the remnants of the Sunni paramilitary movement that helped defeat Al Qaeda in Iraq in places such as Abu Ghraib. The paramilitary leaders are worried about being arrested by the government, and locals are deeply suspicious of the mainly Shiite army units that police them.
On Tuesday, Abu Maarouf, a former Awakening fighter, sat in his home on the outskirts of the farming district not far from where a tribal leader was killed by a bomb over the weekend. Maarouf, who has three sons and a brother who had been detained by the government, said the political season had brought renewed strife west of Baghdad.
"The cards are mixed," he said. "You can't distinguish who is involved. The elections are coming to Abu Ghraib."
Jabbar is a special correspondent. Times staff writers Usama Redha and Raheem Salman in Baghdad contributed to this report.