BAGHDAD (AP) – Iraq’s prime minister accepted the resignation of the country’s interior minister on Friday, just hours after he had fired Baghdad’s security chief over unprecedented attacks that have hit in and near the capital this week.
Anger has mounted against Haider al-Abadi’s government following Sunday’s massive truck bombing in the capital that killed at least 186 people. And late Thursday, an attack at a Shiite shrine north of Baghdad killed 37 people. The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for both attacks.
Interior Minister Mohammed Salem al-Ghabban submitted his resignation on Tuesday but al-Abadi held off on accepting it, until Friday. The prime minister described the attacks as the militants’ response to Iraq’s “great victory in Fallujah, which stunned the world,” according to a statement released by his office.
The former IS stronghold, west of the capital, was retaken in June, after the Islamic State group had held the city for over two years.
But despite recent territorial losses in both Iraq and Syria, where the group has established its self-proclaimed caliphate, the attacks in Baghdad and on the Shiite shrine demonstrate its continued ability to launch offensive attacks in Iraqi government-held territory and beyond. In Iraq, IS still holds pockets of territory in the country’s north and west, including the second-largest city of Mosul.
A successor to al-Ghabban was not immediately named.
The IS attack Sunday in Baghdad’s central Karada neighborhood, where the suicide bomber detonated his explosives’ truck outside a shopping mall in a street crammed with people preparing for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, killing scores, was the deadliest in Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. The death toll has been rising as more human remains continue to be recovered from the rubble.
The late Thursday assault on the Sayyid Mohammed shrine began with mortar fire on the holy site and a nearby market in Balad, 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of Baghdad.
The suicide bomber first targeted police guarding the shrine’s entrance. That allowed allowing a second bomber to push into the courtyard with nine gunmen who targeted security forces and civilians gathered inside to celebrate the Eid al-Fitr holiday.
A third bomber was killed before he detonated his explosives, police said.
In all, 37 people were killed and 62 wounded, according to police and hospital officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
IS claimed responsibility for the shrine attack in a post on the internet. The Associated Press could not verify the authenticity of the statement, but it appeared on a website commonly used by the extremists.
Al-Abadi fired the commander of Baghdad Operations, a statement from his office said earlier Friday. It said other security and intelligence officials also were fired, but it did not identify them.
Many Iraqis blame the political leadership for security lapses that allow such violence to happen in territory far from the front-line fighting against IS.
Small-scale bombings occur on a near-daily basis in Baghdad. In May, a string of larger attacks, many of them claimed by IS, killed more than 200 people in a single week.
After the Baghdad attack, al-Abadi announced new security measures, but it was unclear if any have been implemented.