Insurgents in Iraq detonated a series of car bombs across Iraq today as co-ordinated attacks killed at least 55 people on the deadliest day in nearly a month.
The assault bore the hallmarks of a resurgent al Qaida in Iraq and appeared aimed at sowing fear days before the first elections since US troops withdrew. There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but co-ordinated attacks are a favourite tactic of al Qaida’s Iraq branch.
The attacks were unusually broad in scope. Among the places targeted were the Sunni-dominated western Anbar province and Saddam Hussein’s home town of Tikrit, the ethnically contested oil-rich city of Kirkuk and towns in the predominantly Shiite south.
The deadliest attacks hit Baghdad, where multiple car bombs and other explosions killed 25 people.
In one attack, a parked car bomb exploded at a bus station in the eastern suburbs of Kamaliya, killing four and wounding 13.
Two more car bombs exploded in a rare attack in a parking lot near the heavily guarded entrances to Baghdad International Airport. Three people were killed, including a bodyguard of a Shiite politician whose convoy was passing by. The politician escaped unharmed.
Around sunset, a parked car bomb exploded near car dealerships in the eastern Habibiya neighborhood, killing 10. Other blasts struck the capital’s Kamila, Karrada, Shurta, Baladiyat and Umm al-Maalif neighbourhoods.
In and around the northern city of Kirkuk, three parked car bombs went off in the city centre simultaneously – one in an Arab district, one in a Kurdish one, and one in a Turkomen district- killing four people. Three other car bombs exploded outside the city, killing another five.
Kirkuk, about 180 miles from Baghdad, is home to a mix of ethnic groups with competing claims to the oil-rich region.
The day’s mayhem began around 6.30am in the former insurgent stronghold of Fallujah when a suicide bomber drove an explosives-packed car into a police checkpoint, killing two officers and wounding six others.
Later in the day, two bodyguards assigned to a spokesman for anti-government protests that have raged for months were killed when a bomb attached to their car exploded on the road between Ramadi and Fallujah. A similar bomb stuck to another car in the area killed two others.
Another 15 people were killed and dozens wounded in attacks in Baqouba, Buhriz, Khalis, Mosul, Mussayab, Nasiriyah, Rutba, Tarmiyah and Tikrit.
Local police officials provided details of the attacks, and hospital officials confirmed the casualty tolls.
Officials believe al Qaida in Iraq is growing stronger and increasingly co-ordinating with allies fighting to topple Syrian president Bashar Assad across the border. They say rising lawlessness on the Syria-Iraq frontier and cross-border co-operation with a Syrian group, the Nusra Front, has improved the militants’ supply of weapons and foreign fighters.
The intensifying violence, some of it related to provincial elections scheduled for Saturday, is worrying for Iraqi officials and Baghdad-based diplomats alike. At least 14 candidates have been killed in recent weeks, including one in an apparent ambush yesterday.
“Of course we are concerned about the violence in the country that has been increasing in the last weeks,” United Nations envoy Martin Kobler said. He condemned the bloodshed and urged Iraqi officials to push ahead with the elections.
“They should be free and fair, and every voter should go to the polls free of intimidation and fear,” he said.
Iraqi Army Major General Hassan al-Baydhani, the number two official at Baghdad’s military command, said authorities managed to defuse three car bombs in Baghdad before they could go off.
He described the violence as an attempt to derail the elections and intimidate voters.
“The terrorists want to grab headlines as we approach election day,” he said.
The blasts struck a day after a series of attacks left 10 people dead, including a Sunni candidate running in the upcoming provincial elections.
The vote on Saturday will be the country’s first since US troops withdrew in December 2011. The election, for local-level officials, will be a test of the strength of prime minister Nouri al-Maliki’s political bloc as well as the ability of security forces to keep the country safe.
Today’s violence marked Iraq’s deadliest day since March 19, the eve of the 10th anniversary of the US-led invasion, when a wave of bombings killed 65 across the country.