A car bomb exploded Tuesday in a crowded residential area in the western Iraqi town of Amiriya, killing at least 11 people and wounding 31, medical personnel said.
Some politicians and security officials in Anbar province, where the town is located, described the attack as a harbinger of bloodier days in the countdown to national elections in January.
At least five police officers eating in a nearby restaurant were wounded in the bombing, which also set several cars ablaze.
Once the main base for Al Qaeda in Iraq, Anbar province became known as the first region where Sunni Muslims successfully turned against the hard-line Islamic group, starting in late 2006.
Though far quieter now, the province has still not rid itself of the fighters. The hard-liners aim to topple the government in Baghdad and view the sheiks who rebelled against them as traitors.
“We think the violence has increased as we approach the elections,” Khalid Awani, head of the Iraqi Islamic Party in Anbar, a Sunni group, said Tuesday.
The violence was the result of both Al Qaeda in Iraq’s continued presence in Anbar province, Awani said, and the desire to settle scores among tribesmen who still support armed struggle and those now opposed to it.
Amiriya, about 15 miles south of the larger and better-known town of Fallouja, has been the site of other attacks by Al Qaeda in Iraq. In January 2008, a teenage cousin brought sweets to a family gathering, including tribesmen who had battled the militant group, and detonated explosives, killing himself and at least five others.
It was an indication of how the violence in western Iraq hinges as much on internal family rivalries as it does on radical Islamist ideology.
Anbar has been hit by a string of bombings. On Monday, an attacker blew himself up in a funeral tent in Haditha, killing at least six people. Last week, a truck bomb exploded near an Iraqi army base, killing at least seven people.
After the bombing in Amiriya, Sheik Lawrence Mutib Hasan, a tribal leader in Anbar, warned that the police and army in the province were infiltrated by armed groups and needed to be purged. “We need time to clean up the security apparatus,” he said.
Taxi driver Jasim Mohammed Ali, who was wounded in the blast, said, “I don’t know what they want from these bombings. We are civilians. We are not politicians. Why all of this? Is Al Qaeda behind it or is it the disputes between political parties?”
Jabbar is a special correspondent. Times staff writer Saif Hameed in Baghdad contributed to this report.