Two attacks today marked the third time this year that the headquarters of the Anbar provincial government have been attacked and came a day after a new police chief for the province in western Iraq took up his post.
They mark the first major attack since Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was confirmed for a second term in office last Tuesday and his new government, in which he retains Iraq's three security portfolios, won approval in parliament.
"A car bomb exploded near the Anbar provincial government offices around 9:30 am (0630 GMT) followed about 15 minutes later by a suicide bombing," said a police spokesman, Major Rahim Zabin. "Seven people were killed, including four police, and 51 were injured, among them women and children."
An official of the local morgue said they had received seven bodies while the provincial hospital confirmed the injury figures.
According to police, the two attacks took place at Al-Ziut, a major intersection used by police and government officials on their way to and from their nearby offices.
"I was close to the car when it exploded among a big crowd, including women and children," said witness Abdel Hakim al-Dulaimi, 50. "Some victims were literally sent flying through the air."
An AFP reporter said at least 20 cars were destroyed in the blasts, while surrounding buildings and shops were damaged. "I was at home enjoying my breakfast when the first explosion occurred, rattling my windows," said Majid Shahut, 34, who lives near the targeted intersection.
"I ran outside and I saw many vehicles on fire, and women, police and children lying on the ground. As the rescue teams arrived, a man dressed as a policeman blew himself up among the ambulances and the victims. "I was injured in the arms and one leg," Shahut said, speaking from a hospital bed.
Maliki has assumed interim control of the defence, interior and national security ministries. These posts will be responsible for assuring security after the planned pullout by end 2011 of the roughly 50,000 US troops left in Iraq. In his first address after being re-appointed, Maliki last Wednesday committed his new government to tackling the "enormous" challenges to improve security across Iraq.
The Ramadi attacks also mark a baptism of fire for Anbar's new police chief, Brigadier General Abdel-Hadi Rzeiq, who took up the post on Sunday. His predecessor, Major General Baha al-Qaissi, was replaced in the wake of a suicide car bombing outside the same provincial offices in Ramadi on December 12, in which 11 people, including six policemen, were killed.
Ramadi, 100 kilometres (60 miles) west of Baghdad, is capital of the predominantly Sunni Arab province of Anbar, Iraq's largest by area. The province was a key Sunni insurgent base in the years after the 2003 US-led invasion, but since 2006 local tribes have sided with the American military and day-to-day violence has dropped dramatically. Major attacks do still take place, however.
On February 18, a suicide bomber killed 10 people, including four policemen and a young girl, and wounded 15 in an attack also near the Ramadi provincial government offices. Though attacks remain common, violence in Iraq has dropped dramatically since its peak in 2006 and 2007. The number of people killed in violence across the country last month was the lowest in a year for the second month running.