BAGHDAD, Jan 4: A suicide bomber caused carnage at a Shia funeral and gunmen ambushed a vital fuel convoy outside Baghdad amid a wave of attacks that killed more than 50 people on Wednesday, the bloodiest day in Iraq for weeks.

Car bombs went off in the capital and in the recently peaceful Kerbala, suggesting a level of coordination that may be a response by guerillas to last month’s largely peaceful parliamentary election.

The funeral attack was the bloodiest single incident since the vote, killing 36 and wounding 40.

It happened in Miqdadiya, 100kms northeast of the capital, where people were mourning a bodyguard to a local leader of the Dawa party, headed nationally by Prime Minister Ibrahim al Jaafari.

Assailants fired mortars on the mourners, forcing them to take cover in the cemetery. A bomber wearing an explosive vest then blew up among them, security officials said.

FUEL CONVOY AMBUSHED: Soon afterwards, guerillas armed with rocket-propelled grenades and machineguns ambushed 60 fuel tankers on a road north of Baghdad, destroying 20 of them.

A group called the Islamic Army in Iraq claimed responsibility for the assault in an Internet statement, saying the convoy belonged ‘to the enemy occupier’, a reference to the 150,000 US troops stationed in the country.

The statement did not mention casualties and the oil ministry in Baghdad said only one tanker had been destroyed, by a bomb planted at the side of the road.

The convoy was part of a major government effort to ease fuel shortages in the capital following the recent closure of Iraq’s main refinery at Baiji in the north. Supplies were halted for 10 days because of sabotage to a pipeline and threats to tanker drivers before it reopened again on Monday night.

CAR BOMBS: Thirteen people were killed and 27 injured in Baghdad in the capital’s first fatal car bomb attacks of the new year.

Five died when a vehicle detonated in the northern district of Kadhimiya and eight perished in a second bombing close to a busy commercial market in the southern area of Doura.

The bombers defied a major security operation, which the police said they launched to find the kidnapped sister of the interior minister.

The violence came as Shia, Sunni and Kurdish politicians pledged to plough on with efforts to form a national unity government capable of stemming the bloodshed, which has been mounting in the area where the suicide bomber struck.

Security officials have said hardline groups such as Al Qaeda have been increasingly active in the area, centred on the provincial capital Baquba.

In contrast, Kerbala, south of Baghdad, has been relatively peaceful of late, and Wednesday’s car bombing was the first in the holy city since Dec 2004.

Police said three civilians were injured.

In March 2004, coordinated suicide bombings during the Ashura killed more than 90 people in Kerbala, an act blamed on Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, head of Al Qaeda in Iraq.

ANNAN APPALLED: UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said he was ‘appalled’ by the suicide bombing in Iraq.

“The secretary general is appalled by the suicide bombing that took place today in Iraq during a funeral service in Mukdadiyah,” a spokesman said in a statement.

He said Mr Annan ‘condemns this horrendous crime committed against innocent civilians in total disrespect for human life and dignity’.

“Today’s bombing was the latest in an increasing number of violent incidents following Iraq’s peaceful elections of Dec 15, 2005. The secretary general calls upon all parties concerned to refrain from any action which could undermine Iraq’s democratic progress and to come together in a spirit of national unity and reconciliation,” the spokesman added. —Reuters/AFP

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