BAGHDAD — A wave of bombings across Iraq striking busy markets and a funeral north of Baghdad killed at least 44 people Wednesday, authorities said, as the country remains gripped by violence after Al Qaeda-linked militants took control of two cities in western Anbar province.
[Updated 3:55 p.m. PST, Jan. 15: Security and health officials later raised the toll to at least 50.]
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks. Insurgent groups, mainly Al Qaeda's local branch and other Sunni militants, frequently target civilians in public areas, as well as Shiites and members of the Iraqi security forces, in an attempt to undermine confidence in the Shiite-led government and stir sectarian tensions.
The deadliest attack Wednesday struck a funeral in the town of Buhriz, about 35 miles north of Baghdad. That bombing killed 16 people and wounded 26 inside of a mourning tent, a police officer said.
The funeral was for an anti-Al Qaeda Sunni militiaman who died of natural causes. The Sunni militia, known as the Awakening Council, was formed by U.S. forces during the height of the insurgency. They are seen as traitors by Al Qaeda's local branch and other militant groups.
In Baghdad, a series of bombings killed at least 28 people.
[Updated 3:55 p.m. PST, Jan. 15: A roadside bomb also hit a military convoy near the northern city of Mosul, killing six soldiers and wounding eight others, officials said.]
The army and allied tribesmen have been fighting Al Qaeda's Islamic State of Iraq and Syria affiliate around Anbar's provincial capital, Ramadi, and the nearby city of Fallouja. The militants control the center of Fallouja and parts of Ramadi, a major challenge to the government and its forces two years after the withdrawal of U.S. troops
Iraqi officials said Wednesday that army troops backed by airstrikes had retaken a town in Anbar that had been seized by Al Qaeda-linked militants. Senior military officials said Wednesday's counterattack came a day after heavily armed gunmen surrounded the main police station in Saqlawiya and forced all the policemen to relinquish their weapons and leave
In a speech Wednesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki urged Anbar tribal allies to continue fighting Al Qaeda.
“The tribesmen should take a firm stance in order to expel the terrorists from their areas so that peace would prevail there,” Maliki said during his weekly televised address.