ANBAR, Iraq (Reuters) - Gunmen ambushed a bus and executed 15 passengers on a remote desert road in Iraq on Wednesday, as growing sectarian violence raises fears of a return to civil war.
Officials blamed al Qaeda for the ambush in which, they said, 10 border police and five local residents were executed in between Anbar province and Kerbala. It was not immediately clear whether the victims were Shi'ite or Sunni Muslims.
"Those terrorists hunt people along this road and kill according to religious sect," said Jassim al-Khuttabi, deputy chief of Kerbala provincial council. "We know the al Qaeda cells are working there."
Nearly 2,000 people have been killed since April in an upsurge of bombings and attacks targeting Sunni and Shi'ite mosques and neighborhoods in Baghdad and other cities.
Invigorated by the Sunni rebellion in neighboring Syria, al Qaeda's local wing, Islamic State of Iraq, and other insurgent groups have stepped up their attacks to try to provoke a sectarian war.
Since the last U.S. troops left in December 2011, security officials say, al Qaeda has regained ground in the Sunni-dominated western provinces near Syria's border, where the remote desert makes it hard for the Iraqi army to track them.
(Reporting by Kamal Naama in Ramadi; Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)