A new wave of attacks across Iraq killed at least 20 people and wounded dozens on Monday as the government pressed on with its offensive to hunt down al-Qaeda-linked militants in the country’s volatile western desert.

The military operation in Anbar province followed the weekend killing of a senior military commander, a colonel and five soldiers in an ambush there during a raid on a militant hideout early Saturday.

A government statement said security forces backed by helicopters have been combing the desert near the borders with Syria and Jordan. Syria’s civil war and chaos have encouraged widespread cross-border movement of al-Qaeda fighters between the two countries.

The deadliest among Monday’s attacks was near Baghdad’s western suburb of Abu Ghraib, where militants fired mortar rounds into a military base, killing three officers and three soldiers, a police officer said. Seven soldiers were wounded in that attack.

In Baghdad’s southern district of Dora, gunmen broke into a pet shop and killed four men, another police officer said.

Three civilians were killed and nine were wounded when a bomb ripped through an outdoor market in the Iraqi capital’s northwestern Tobchi district. And on a highway in eastern Baghdad, drive-by shooters opened fire at a bus, killing two commuters and wounding nine, he said.

Separately, gunmen attacked a bus in the town of Baqouba, a former al-Qaeda stronghold located about 60 km northeast of Baghdad, killing three commuters and wounding six there, police said.

Three medical officials confirmed the casualty figures. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Speaking at a press conference in the southern city of Karbala, Prime Minister Nouri al—Maliki said on Monday that the operation in Anbar “will continue until it is purged of terrorists, with the help of the Iraqi people.”

Also Monday in western Iraq, police said gunmen seized three trucks with a load of about two dozen SUVs on the main highway to Jordan and kidnapped the drivers.

Insurgents have stepped up attacks across Iraq in the past months, sending violence to levels not seen since 2008.

Monday’s attacks brought the total number of people killed so far this month to 394. According to U.N. estimates, more than 8,000 people have been killed since the start of the year as insurgents seek to undermine government efforts to maintain security nationwide.

Keywords: Iraq violence

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