Iraq: 15 dead as blasts hit school, police post

QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA

BAGHDAD (AP) — Suicide attackers blew up explosives-laden vehicles next to an elementary school and a police station in a small northern Iraqi village on Sunday, killing at least 15 people of whom many were children, officials said.

The attacks are the latest in a relentless wave of killing that has made for Iraq's deadliest outburst of violence since 2008. The mounting death tolls are raising fears that the country is falling back into the spiral of violence that brought it to the edge of civil war in the years after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

Sunday's blasts struck around 9:30 a.m. in the Shiite Turkomen village of Qabak, just outside the town of Tal Afar. The area around the stricken village has long been a hotbed for hard-to-rout Sunni insurgents and a corridor for extremist fighters arriving from nearby Syria.

One car bomb in the tiny village targeted an elementary school while children ages 6 to 12 were in class as another struck a nearby police station, Tal Afar mayor Abdul Aal al-Obeidi said. The dead included 12 children, the school principal and two policemen. Another 90 people were wounded, he said.

The village is home to only about 200 residents, and part of the single-story school collapsed as a result of the blast, he said. Tal Afar is 420 kilometers (260 miles) northwest of Baghdad.

"We and Iraq are plagued by al-Qaida," al-Obeidi said. "It's a tragedy. These innocent children were here to study. What sins did these children commit?"

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but suicide bombers and car bombs are frequently used by al-Qaida's Iraq branch. It often targets Shiite civilians because it considers them heretics in its extremist ideology.

Authorities on Sunday raised the death toll from a bombing targeting Shiite pilgrims on the previous evening to 51, up from 42 previously. That attack happened in the largely Sunni neighborhood of Azamiyah in northern Baghdad, which is joined to the Shiite district of Kazimiyah by a bridge spanning the Tigris River. That and other attacks Saturday left a total of 75 dead.

United Nations figures released this week showed that at least 979 people, most of them civilians, were killed last month alone.

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Associated Press writer Adam Schreck contributed.