Iraq offers aid to those displaced by militants
BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Wednesday his government has allocated more than $850 million to assist those displaced by last month's militant takeover of much of the country, and called on Sunnis remaining in those areas to take up arms against the insurgents.
He spoke in a weekly address delivered hours before car bombs in two mostly Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad killed 23 people and wounded scores more as residents tried to celebrate the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
Al-Maliki said his Cabinet is exerting huge efforts to ease the suffering of displaced people, mostly Shiites and Christians who were driven out by last month's lightning offensive waged by the extremist Islamic State group and allied militants. He said two installments of 500 billion dinars ($429 million) each have been allocated to aid the internally displaced.
"We are sad for what our people are undergoing, but the government has taken decisions, spent money in an unlimited way and formed a ministerial committee to deliver aid and take care of the displaced people," he said.
The rapid advance by the extremist group, which captured Iraq's second-largest city Mosul and overran much of northern and western Iraq, plunged the country into its worst crisis since the withdrawal of U.S. troops at the end of 2011, with more than a million Iraqis now classified as internally displaced or refugees.
The Sunni militants have carved out a large expanse of land straddling the Iraq-Syria border and declared a self-styled Islamic caliphate. But their offensive eventually slowed upon reaching predominantly Shiite areas of Iraq.
Al-Maliki called on those living in Sunni-majority areas overrun by the insurgents to fight back. "I say to the people of these areas, your participation in clearing these areas has become essential and necessary," he said.
Al-Maliki, a Shiite who has ruled the country since 2006, is under pressure to not seek a third four-year term despite his bloc winning the most votes in April's parliamentary election.
Many in Iraq accuse al-Maliki's Shiite-led government of helping fuel the crisis by failing to promote reconciliation with the Sunni Muslim minority, and say he has become too polarizing a figure to unite the country and face down the militant threat.
Shortly before sunset Wednesday, a car bomb exploded near a line of small restaurants in Baghdad's Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City, killing 15 people and wounding 28, police officials said. Several shops and cars burned in the explosion.
Later on, a car bomb exploded near a falafel restaurant in the Shiite district of al-Amin in eastern Baghdad, killing eight people and wounding 20 others, said police.
The Baghdad attacks apparently were targeting people celebrating the holiday, according to the police.
In the western Anbar province, much of which is controlled by militants, police said a car bomb blast near the local council building in al-Baghdadi town killed three people and wounded nine. Al-Baghdadi, which is still held by the government, is about 180 kilometers (110 miles) northwest of Baghdad.
Hospital officials confirmed casualty figures for the attacks. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to journalists.