Bomb attacks kill 59 in Iraq, as government loses more ground to militants

Iraqis gather at the site of a car bomb in central Baghdad, on January 15, 2014. Attacks in Iraq have killed at least 59 people officials said.</p>

Iraqis gather at the site of a car bomb in central Baghdad, on January 15, 2014. Attacks in Iraq have killed at least 59 people officials said.

Bombs hit Iraq's capital Baghdad and a village near the northern town of Baquba on Wednesday, killing at least 59 people, police and hospital sources said, as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki warned that militants were trying to set up an "evil statelet."

In the deadliest incident, a bomb blew up in a funeral tent where mourners were marking the death two days ago of a Sunni Muslim pro-government militiaman, police said. It killed 18 people and wounded 16 in Shatub, a village south of Baquba.

At least seven bombs struck the Iraqi capital, mostly in Shia districts, killing 37 people and wounding 78, police and medics said. A car bomb in Dujail, a Shia town 50 km (31 miles) north of Baghdad, killed three people and wounded seven.

Iraq's PM: "The battle will be long"

Two years after US troops left Iraq, violence has climbed back to its highest levels since the Sunni-Shia bloodshed of 2006-2007, when tens of thousands of people were killed.

The army is locked in a standoff with Sunni militants who overran Fallujah, a city west of Baghdad, more than two weeks ago in a challenge to Maliki's government.

They are led by the Al Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which is fighting in western Iraq and Syria to carve out a cross-border Islamist fiefdom.

"The battle will be long and will continue," Maliki said on state television on Wednesday, calling for world support. "If we keep silent it means the creation of evil statelets that would wreak havoc with security in the region and the world."

Maliki has ruled out an assault on Fallujah by the troops and tanks ringing the city of 300,000, but has told local tribesmen to expel ISIL, which exploited anger among minority Sunnis against a government they accuse of oppressing them.

Al Qaeda loyalists are pursuing a relentless campaign of attacks, mostly aimed at security forces, Shia civilians and Sunnis seen as loyal to the Shia-led government.

Iraqi forces lose more ground

Iraqi forces lost more ground in crisis-hit Anbar province on Wednesday as Sunni gunmen, including those linked to Al-Qaeda, overran two key areas when police abandoned their posts, officials said.

"We gave ourselves up, and we gave up our arms to Daash," one policemen, who did not want to be named, told AFP from the town of Saqlawiyah, referring to the commonly-used Arabic name for the Al Qaeda-linked ISIL.

"They have very heavy arms, which are much stronger than what we have. Our police station was not very well protected, and they surrounded us. Even when we called for support, nobody came. Now, some of us have gone home, others have gone to other police stations."

Militants overran the police station in Saqlawiyah, a town just west of Fallujah, and took control of the entire area after using mosque loudspeakers to urge policemen to abandon their posts and leave their weapons behind.

The losses mark a second day of setbacks for Baghdad as it seeks to retake territory on the capital's doorstep from militants, who hold all of the former insurgent bastion of Fallujah and parts of the nearby Anbar provincial capital Ramadi.

The latest unrest comes amid a deadly, weeks-long crisis in the province, a mostly desert region in western Iraq bordering conflict-ravaged Syria, ahead of national parliamentary polls on April 30.

Diplomats, including UN chief Ban Ki-moon, have urged Baghdad to pursue political reconciliation to resolve the standoff and a protracted surge in nationwide violence, but Maliki has ruled out dialogue with militants.

Agence France-Presse and Reuters contributed to this report.