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20 people killed in Iraqi police academy blast
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing, but suicide attacks are a hallmark of al Qaeda.
The terror group’s potency in Iraq has waned since its heyday five years ago, when the country teetered on the brink of civil war. But last week, Iraqi and U.S. officials acknowledged al Qaeda remains a viable threat, noting fears that local fighters in the Sunni-dominated insurgent network were shifting to Syria to aid forces opposing the regime of President Bashar Assad.
But some of Baghdad’s residents said Sunday’s attack likely was rooted in political turbulence that has shaken Iraq in recent weeks.
In findings that were expected to raise already-simmering sectarian tensions, a judicial panel last week said that at least 150 attacks and assassinations since 2005 were linked to Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, Iraq’s highest-ranking Sunni official.
The charges against Mr. al-Hashemi, who has sought haven from arrest in the autonomous northern Kurdish region, were first brought in December by the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Mr. al-Hashemi has denied the charges and is expected to give a speech in the coming days to defend himself.
“The people were expecting such attacks because of the current tense political atmosphere in the country,” said Ali Rahim, 40, a government employee. “Those poor recruits were looking to send the salary to their families, and now they are going to be sent as dead bodies to these families.”
Mr. al-Hashemi is a member of the secular but Sunni-dominated Iraqiya political bloc, which on Sunday accused the government of rehashing the charges on state TV at the risk of inflaming current strains.
Repeating the accusations against Mr. al-Hashemi “will provoke the public and create more tension as political blocs are working to defuse the tension and end the crisis,” Iraqiya spokeswoman Maysoun al-Damluji said in a statement.
The judicial panel’s findings against Mr. al-Hashemi are not legally binding, and he is entitled to a trial. But it opened the door to let 15 relatives of those killed in the attacks allegedly linked to Mr. al-Hashemi file lawsuits against him.
Also Sunday, Iraqi investigators in the southern port city of Um Qasr said a Shiite mosque that was partially destroyed in an overnight fire was likely an act of sabotage, according to two police officials. Almost all the furniture in the mosque, including copies of the Quran, the Muslim holy book, were burned.
Officials said they suspected a rival Shiite group of the arson. No arrests have been announced.
Associated Press writer Lara Jakes contributed to this report.
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