BAGHDAD -- Fresh violence killed at least 26 people Monday in Iraq, where the U.N. chief was on a visit urging leaders to tackle the issues driving fighting in a western province where the army is in a standoff with al-Qaida-linked fighters.
Police officials said the deadliest of the attacks took place at night when a car bomb exploded near a market in Baghdad's northeastern district of Shaab, killing 10 people, including three policemen, and wounding 13.
U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon arrived in Baghdad on a visit aimed at discussing regional issues. Ban expressed deep concern over the violence hitting Iraq's Sunni-dominated Anbar province.
"The situation in Anbar Governorate, particularly in Fallujah and Ramadi, is a source of grave concern. The security situation in Iraq is undoubtedly a source of great concern," he told reporters during a joint press conference with the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Iraqi security forces and allied Sunni tribesmen in Anbar have been battling al-Qaida fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant but have yet to recapture the city of Fallujah or parts of the provincial capital, Ramadi.
The extremist militants, emboldened by fellow fighters' gains in the war in neighboring Syria, have tried to position themselves as the champions of Iraqi Sunnis angry at the Shiite-led government over what they see as efforts to marginalize them.
Thousands of families have left the areas in the province, fearing a government offensive. Clashes between militants and security forces have killed least 60 people since the violence erupted after the Dec. 28 arrest of a Sunni lawmaker sought on terrorism charges and the dismantling of an anti-government Sunni protest camp in Ramadi.
Regarding Syria's civil war, al-Maliki said that if peace talks scheduled to be held Jan. 22 in Switzerland fail, it would be "a big catastrophe not only for Syria... but in the region -- Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and the whole world."
The Syrian conflict began in March 2011 with largely peaceful protests against Bashar Assad before shifting into an armed insurgency after a brutal government crackdown. It has killed more than 120,000 people, forced more than 2 million to flee the country and devastated the nation's cities, economy and social fabric.zs