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Bombs Kill More Than 30 In Iraq

RAMADI, Iraq (Reuters) -- Twin suicide bombs killed at least 24 and wounded more than 100 in Iraq's Sunni Arab heartland today and a roadside bomb killed seven pilgrims returning from a major Shi'ite Muslim religious festival.

U.S. forces transported Qassim Mohammed, Sunni governor of the vast desert province of Anbar west of Baghdad, to the Iraqi capital for medical treatment, a U.S. military spokesman said after the attacks targeting him and other officials in Anbar.

Al-Iraqiya state television earlier reported he had been killed in the attacks just outside the provincial government headquarters in Ramadi, Anbar's provincial capital.

Hospital and police sources said Sadoon Khraibit, a member of Anbar's provincial council, and its deputy police commander were also wounded in the blasts.

A separate, roadside bomb killed seven Iraqi pilgrims who were returning from a major Shi'ite Muslim religious festival, police said. At least 25 other pilgrims were wounded in the attack in Khalis, 80 kilometers north of Baghdad.

The attacks underscore the tenaciousness of the insurgency despite a steep drop in overall violence. Iraq is going through a delicate period before national polls in March and as U.S. forces prepare to halt combat operations next year.

Police in Ramadi said the blasts took place in quick succession in the center of the city, 100 kilometers west of Baghdad, leaving pools of blood and charred vehicles near the heavily fortified provincial building.

Police Colonel Jabbar Ajaj said a suicide bomber detonated explosives in a vehicle in the initial blast, followed shortly by a second suicide attack by a bomber on foot. Many of the at least 105 people wounded were members of Iraqi security forces.

The first blast went off near the governor's convoy as he made his way to work, police said. Mohammed was at the site of the blast inspecting the damage, a source at the Ramadi hospital reported, when the second attacker struck.

Iraqiya said one of the bombers was a man working as a bodyguard for the governor.

"I was walking towards some shops right next to the provincial government compound when a huge explosion happened. I flew through the air, and I woke up in the hospital," said Ahmed Mahmoud, a 30-year-old Ramadi resident.

At the Ramadi hospital, doctors crowded around injured policemen lying on stretchers. One of the wounded was a tiny baby, its diaper and white sweater dotted with blood.

Anbar, the heart of Iraq's Sunni Islamist insurgency following the 2003 overthrow of Saddam Hussein, became a relatively secure place after local tribal leaders threw their support behind grassroots guard units battling Al-Qaeda in 2006.

But a spate of recent attacks has raised fears violence will increase there ahead of the March elections. Many from Iraq's Sunni minority, dominant under Saddam Hussein, fear the Shi'ite majority could edge them out of power for good.

Sunnis have not formed a united electoral bloc as they have in past elections, and have instead reached out across sectarian lines to form alliances with Shi'ites and others.

The move may reflect a strategic calculation about voters' dissatisfaction with ruling religious parties and a degree of disarray among the Sunni leadership.

The Anbar attacks follow a series of large-scale bombings in Baghdad, which Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has blamed on Al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's Baath party.

"Al-Qaeda and other groups are trying to destabilize security in the province ahead of the elections. Unless the police does its job well, these kind of challenges are going to become even bigger," said Anbar council head Jassim Mohammed.