A series of mortars or rockets slammed into the US-controlled Green Zone yesterday, and an official said at least one round struck a parking lot used by the Iraqi prime minister and his security detail.
The barrage occurred a day after the US military acknowledged "an increasing pattern of attacks" against the sprawling complex on the west bank of the Tigris River despite a security crackdown now in its fifth month.
A plume of black smoke billowed into the sky and helicopters buzzed overhead after about nine blasts occurred in quick succession around 10am.
At least one mortar round struck a parking lot used by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his security detail, an official from the prime minister's office said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release the information.
The US embassy confirmed there were rounds of indirect fire, the military term for rockets or mortars, but said it could not immediately provide details such as where they struck.
A recent increase in mortar and rocket attacks on the Green Zone, which houses the US embassy and major Iraqi government offices, has raised new concern about the security of thousands of US soldiers and foreign contractors, as well Iraqis.
It was unclear whether the rounds were fired by Sunni or Shiite extremists. Both groups operate in areas of the city within rocket and mortar range of the heavily fortified complex of concrete buildings and checkpoints.
Mortar and rocket crews can set up their weapons quickly on the beds of trucks or in parts of the city with limited surveillance, fire their rounds and flee before US and Iraqi forces can respond.
A June 5 UN report said insurgents had bombarded the Green Zone with rockets and mortar fire more than 80 times since March, reportedly killing at least 26 people.
Rear Admiral Mark Fox, a US military spokesman in Baghdad, declined to provide details on the number of attacks against the Green Zone, which is also known as the International Zone, but said they were increasing.
"It's clear that there is an attempt to get lucky shots, and there is unquestionably an increasing pattern of attacks here against the International Zone. There's no doubt about that," Fox said on Wednesday at a joint news conference with Iraqi military spokesman Qassim al-Moussawi.
Al-Moussawi said the attacks were coming from inside residential areas, causing difficulties in responding to them because of concern about civilian casualties.
At least 12 people were killed yesterday when a suicide bomber exploded an oil tanker outside police headquarters in a northern Iraqi town, police and hospital officials said.
Another 70 people were wounded in the attack, including several members of the local government and police, according to an official in the hospital of a neighboring town that was receiving victims.
The explosion took place in the town of Suleiman Beg, about 90km south of the city of Kirkuk, by a cluster of government buildings including the police headquarters.
"Several of the wounded are city council members and police officers, including the chief of police in Suleiman Beg, Hassan Ali Al-Bayati," the hospital official said.
The attack gutted the police headquarters and two local administration buildings and fires raged near the crater of the explosion, a local police official said.
"Rescue efforts are still going on and they are still trying to put out the fires," said Colonel Abbas Mohammed Amin, a police chief in the neighbouing town of Tuz Khurmatu.
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