Explosions ripped through an apartment building and surrounding houses in northern Iraq Wednesday shortly after police arrived to investigate a tip about a weapons cache, killing at least 17 civilians and wounding at least 130 others.
In a separate incident, a suicide car bomber targeted a police convoy near the northern city of Kirkuk, killing at least five civilians and injuring 11, police said.
The cause of the apartment blast in the city of Mosul was unknown. Brig. Gen. Abdul-Karim al-Jubouri said it occurred about 4:30 p.m. after the arrival of Iraqi police forces who went to the building after receiving a tip that weapons and explosives were hidden inside.
The entire building, a suspected bomb-making factory, was empty. But the blast devastated nearby houses, al-Jubouri said.
Rescue crews were searching late into the night for victims under the debris of collapsed homes from the thunderous 4:30 p.m. explosion. Police said injured people were trapped under the collapsed ceilings and walls of their homes.
Three days ago, a U.S. military spokesman said al-Qaida had been chased from all major Iraqi cities except Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad.
Attacks have persisted in recent months in northern Iraq even as violence has declined in Baghdad and other areas.
The attacker in Kirkuk missed his apparent target — a convoy carrying the head of the area’s police academy, Col. Jawdat Hussein, as he patrolled a market in Debis west of Kirkuk, police spokesman Brig. Gen. Sarhat Qadir said.
Instead, the blast killed at least five civilians and injured 11, Qadir said.
Kirkuk is an oil-rich city 180 miles north of Baghdad.
In the capital Baghdad, gunmen opened fire on Iraqi soldiers resting on the side of a highway in central Baghdad, killing three and injuring at least one, according to police and the U.S. military.
The drive-by shooting occurred as the troops were on foot patrol about 11 a.m. in the Bab al-Mudham district on the eastern side of the Tigris River, a police officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.
One of the soldiers, who was wounded in his leg and stomach, said the patrol was near the Finance Ministry when they were attacked. He would only give his first name as Muhsin.
“The highway was almost empty when a speeding white car approached us and the passengers showered us with bullets,” he said. “We were taken by surprise and we did not have the time to shoot back.”
The attack in the heart of Baghdad provided a deadly example of the stark challenges facing the Iraqi forces as they work to take over their own security so U.S.-led troops can eventually go home. It was the latest in a series of bombings, shootings and mortar attacks as militants seek to undermine recent security gains.
Iraqi politicians and the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have been criticized for failing to take advantage of recent security gains to make progress on key U.S.-backed reforms believed necessary to stem support for the Sunni-led insurgency.
With the help of improving Iraqi troops and Awakening Councils — mostly Sunni tribal groups that have turned against al-Qaida in Iraq — the U.S. military says it has gained command of many key areas across central Iraq.
But it is far more difficult to prevent isolated suicide strikes against less-protected targets.