Baghdad: Violence in Iraq, including the shelling of a militant-held city, a suicide bombing and shootings, killed 20 people today as officials tallied votes from last month`s parliamentary election.
The bloodshed is part of the worst protracted surge in unrest since a brutal Sunni-Shiite sectarian war killed tens of thousands in 2006 and 2007, sparking fears Iraq may be slipping back into all-out conflict.
Shelling in Fallujah, which has been held by anti- government fighters for more than four months, killed 11 people and wounded 20, according to Dr Ahmed Shami of the city`s main hospital.
The source of the fire was not immediately clear.
The casualties come a day after Iraqi forces launched an operation to retake areas near Fallujah, which lies just a short drive west of Baghdad, in preparation for an eventual assault.
Security forces claimed to have killed 50 militants in a series of operations around Fallujah today, according to interior ministry spokesman Brigadier General Saad Maan, who added that they had also destroyed several insurgent hideouts.
For months, the authorities have trumpeted wide-ranging anti-militant operations, insisting they are making an impact, and have been quick to blame external factors such as the civil war in neighbouring Syria for the rise in bloodshed.
But analysts and diplomats say the Shiite-led government must also do more to reach out to the disaffected Sunni minority in order to undermine support for militancy.
And while officials have mooted an assault on Fallujah, such an operation is unlikely to occur soon, as security forces have struggled all year to regain territory in Anbar province, of which Fallujah is a part, from militants.
And they would face a major challenge to recapture the city without causing civilian casualties and significant damage to infrastructure.
The crisis in the desert province of Anbar, which shares a long border with Syria, erupted in late December when security forces dismantled a longstanding protest camp maintained by the province`s mainly Sunni Arab population to vent their grievances against the government.
Militants subsequently seized parts of provincial capital Ramadi and all of Fallujah, the first time anti-government forces have exercised such open control in major cities since the peak of the deadly violence that followed the US-led invasion of 2003.
Elsewhere today, a suicide bomber blew up a vehicle at a checkpoint in the town of Tarmiyah, north of Baghdad, killing at seven people and wounding at least 20.
And separate shootings in the northern province of Nineveh killed two others.