Al Qaeda Hits West Iraq

    A woman walks past the site of a bomb attack in Balad Ruz, in northeastern Iraq, January 3, 2014. A suicide bomber driving a car packed with explosives killed at least 12 people who had gathered to buy and sell cars in Iraq on Thursday, local officials said. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, which took place near the car markets in the town of Balad Ruz, in northeastern Iraq, injuring another 25 people.   REUTERS/Mohammed Adnan (IRAQ - Tags: CIVIL UNREST) - RTX170P9

    Mohammed Adnan/Reuters

    Taking advantage of the conflict between the Sunni minority and the Shiite-led government of Nouri al-Maliki, al Qaeda militants in western Iraq cities on Thursday launched attacks on police stations and fought with government forces. Following outrage over the arrest of a prominent Sunni, the government withdrew forces from Anbar province cities, creating a vacuum that al Qaeda militants seized on. Violence in the country has worsened recently, and 2013 was the bloodiest for Iraqi civilians in five years.

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