Bombs struck a cafe in Baghdad and remote communities in northern Iraq on Saturday, killing at least 18 people, as the visiting Iranian foreign minister warned that Iraq's instability affected the whole region.
The blasts came just over a week after suicide truck bombers devastated the foreign and finance ministries in Baghdad, killing about 100 people and dealing a blow to confidence in the Iraqi government's ability to protect the people as U.S. forces scale back their presence.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki called on neighboring countries to play a positive role in helping stabilize Iraq. His comments took on added significance amid a diplomatic dispute between Iraq and Syria over demands that Damascus extradite suspected Saddam Hussein loyalists blamed for the Baghdad ministry bombings.
"The lack of stability and security in Iraq will definitely affect the region," Mottaki said at a news conference with his Iraqi counterpart, Hoshyar Zebari. "All of Iraq's neighbors should work seriously and help Iraq in providing security and stability."
Al-Qaida alliance blamed
The Iraqi government has blamed an alliance of al-Qaida in Iraq and Saddam loyalists it says are based in Syria for the Aug. 19 bombings and demanded that Damascus hand over two suspected plotters, raising tensions between the two countries.
Iraqi forces have stepped up security in Baghdad and other cities since the truck bombings.
But attackers were still able to detonate an explosives-laden motorcycle near a cafe in an eastern section of the capital at about 8 p.m. on Saturday, killing at least two civilians and wounding 12, according to police and hospital officials.
Saturday's deadliest attack was a suicide truck bombing targeting a small police station in the Sunni village of Hamad north of Baghdad, killing at least 12 people, including six policemen, and wounding 15, according to Iraqi officials.
Such remote villages often depend on a small security force for protection. Bombers have been exploiting that vulnerability in villages surrounding Mosul, in particular. They have mainly targeted ethnic minorities.
In Hamad, police attempted to stop the truck, opening fire and forcing the attacker to change direction and slam into a concrete barrier near a market, the officials said.
The police chief of the nearby town of Shirqat, Col. Ali al-Jubouri, said police had defused a car bomb in the same area days earlier and he believed Saturday's attack was retaliation for that.
Sinjar hit several times by bombs
A second bombing in northern Iraq targeted a market in the city of Sinjar, near the Syrian border. An explosives-laden truck blew up, killing at least four people and wounding 23, police said.
Sinjar, which is near the volatile city of Mosul, has been hit several times by bombings, most recently on Aug. 13 when double suicide bombings killed 21 people in a cafe.
"The terrorists targeted a popular market where innocent people and children were wandering about," said city council member Alyas Khudr. "They will not leave us in peace to have a normal life."
The city, which is dominated by members of the Kurdish-speaking Yazidi religious minority, was also hit by four suicide truck bombers nearly simultaneously, killing as many as 500 Yazidis, on Aug. 14, 2007.
Iraqi troops foiled another attempted suicide car bombing in the mainly Sunni Azamiyah area in northern Baghdad, shooting to death the attacker as he tried to flee, military spokesman Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi said.
Are Iraqi security forces up to the task?
The spike in deadly bombings has heightened fears about the abilities of Iraqi security forces to protect the people just two months after U.S. forces pulled back from populated areas, with plans to fully withdraw from the country by the end of 2011.
The government has stepped up its rhetoric against Saddam loyalists known as Baathists for their membership in his former party, demanding Syria turn over suspects living on its territory. The dispute caused both countries to recall their ambassadors.
"We are dealing with the crisis, containing it and preventing any further escalation or tension," Zebari said, adding that the government plans to ask the United Nations to back the creation of an international court to try people involved in terrorist acts for war crimes and genocide.
The Iranian foreign minister also met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and President Jalal Talabani before traveling south to the holy city of Najaf for the burial of one of Iraq's most powerful Shiite leaders, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim. Al-Hakim died Wednesday of lung cancer in Tehran.
Al-Hakim led the Iranian-backed Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, Iraq's largest Shiite party, and was widely revered for helping pave the way for the re-emergence of Shiite power after decades of oppression under Saddam's Sunni-led regime.
Thousands of mourners followed al-Hakim's casket in a procession when it arrived in Najaf after a three-day tour through Iran, Baghdad and Karbala.
He was buried in a shrine next to his brother, Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, who led the party until he was killed in a car bombing in Najaf soon after the brothers returned to Iraq in 2003 after years in exile.
In his will, al-Hakim called for peaceful coexistence among Iraq's fractured sects.
"The terrorists see that the only way to achieve their victory is by creating sedition between Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis," he said in the will, which was read by his son and chosen successor, Ammar, at the funeral service.