Bomb attack kills officers in Iraq's Anbar province

The commander of the Iraqi army's Seventh Division, Maj Gen Mohammed al-Karawi (L), at a conference in Baghdad, 13 December Maj Gen Mohammed al-Karawi (L) is seen here at a conference in Baghdad earlier this month

The commander of an Iraqi army division and other senior officers have been killed in a bomb attack during a security operation in Anbar province.

At least one blast ripped through a house killing 15 officers and soldiers who were taking part in an operation against militants with al-Qaeda links.

It is unclear whether they were attacked by suicide bombers or if the building had been booby-trapped.

Sectarian fighting has made this the deadliest year in Iraq since 2008.

In other violence on Saturday, a bomb killed five police officers in Sharqat, north of Baghdad, and another four died in a gun attack in Falluja, west of the capital.

'Malevolent gangs'

The commander of the army's Seventh Division, Maj Gen Mohammed al-Karawi, and up to four other officers died in the bomb attack near the town of Rutba, 390km (240 miles) west of the capital Baghdad.

As many as 32 soldiers were also wounded.

Unnamed army sources told AFP news agency that bombs had gone off as they entered a deserted building.

However, an unnamed military source who had reportedly been at the scene told Reuters: "All that we know so far is three suicide bombers wearing explosive vests came from nowhere and detonated themselves among the officers."

In a statement quoted by AFP, the army said troops had been involved in an operation against al-Qaeda training camps for militants.

More than 60 militants had been present in the area, it added.

Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, who also heads the armed forces, offered his condolences, saying the soldiers had been "carrying out the most noble battles against the enemies of God and humanity".

He urged the armed forces "to strike with an iron fist... these malevolent gangs and track them down wherever they may be".

Sectarian violence has surged across Iraq this year with more than 8,000 people killed since January, many of them in fighting between Sunni and Shia Muslims.

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