Bombs in 6 Iraqi provinces shatter calm, kill 33 people

McClatchy NewspapersFebruary 23, 2012 

BAGHDAD — More than a month of relative calm in Iraq was broken Thursday by a series of apparently coordinated attacks that killed at least 33 people and wounded at least 266.

The attacks, which included suicide bombings, explosives hidden in parked cars and fire from small arms, struck in at least 19 places in six provinces, security officials said.

The violence came the day after Iraqi officials announced that they'd arrested the commander of Ansar al Sunna, a Sunni Muslim extremist group affiliated with al Qaida, as he was attempting to cross into Iraq from Syria.

An Iraqi intelligence officer said that Waleed Khalid Ali, the leader of Ansar al Sunna, was carrying a list of names that Iraqi officials believe were senior security officers targeted for assassination.

"He was on foot and he was carrying documents and a list of names with him that are thought to be names of high-ranking security officers that were marked for assassination," the intelligence officer told McClatchy on the condition of anonymity because he isn't authorized to disclose information to reporters.

There was no evidence to tie Ali's arrest to Thursday's string of attacks, but security officials blamed them on al Qaida-affiliated groups.

"This is a message from the terrorist organization al Qaida to its supporters, saying that they are still active in Iraq, and have the ability to carry out hits in the capital and in the provinces," the Interior Ministry said in a statement. "The message comes after a period in which al Qaida operations have dwindled and failed in many instances."

Iraqi security officials told McClatchy earlier this week that violence had dropped throughout the country since last fall after al Qaida-affiliated fighters left to join the battle against Syrian President Bashar Assad, a migration that U.S. officials first recognized publically earlier this month.

Thursday's violence, however, was a reminder that Iraq remains racked by internal divisions that can easily give way to chaos.

At least 20 people died and 80 were wounded in attacks in Baghdad, where residents were awakened around dawn by the sound of explosions.

The attacks, which struck both Sunni and Shiite Muslim neighborhoods, targeted police patrols, civilians on the streets and restaurants during rush hour, when day laborers gather to eat breakfast and await work. The attacks included two car bombs in the Karrada district in central Baghdad, one in the Mansour district in western Baghdad and one in the Khadamiya district in northwest Baghdad, as well as six roadside bombs and two incidents in which insurgents attacked police with small arms fire.

People in Baghdad reacted with anger.

"What are the security officials doing?" shouted Hadi Abdulwahab, a father of four whose shop in Karrada isn't far from the site of one of the car bombings. "This is proof that they are not in control. The armed groups are in control."

Only luck, he said, kept him alive. The insurgents "hit when and where they want," he said. "There is no security plan. There is no security. We are alive only because we weren't hit — this time. We leave our homes in the morning not knowing whether we will return or not."

The attacks took place in a remarkably broad spectrum of Iraq. In Babil province, south of Baghdad, three separate car bombs killed three civilians and wounded 95, according to health officials. In Salahuddin province, north of Baghdad, three car bombs killed eight civilians and wounded another 62.

Car bombs also struck in Diyala province, to the east of Baghdad, killing one and wounding 13 in two separate attacks, and in Kirkuk province, northeast of the capital, where one civilian was killed and 15 wounded, also in two separate attacks.

In Ninewah province, which has enjoyed a 50 percent drop in violence since al Qaida-affiliated fighters went to Syria, a mortar round wounded one civilian and two suicide car bombers targeted telephone company towers, destroying one, but causing no other casualties, security officials said.

The Interior Ministry said it had counted 22 attacks during the day, but it provided no tally of dead and wounded. In its statement, it said the attacks were part of al Qaida in Iraq's plan to keep the country preoccupied with the lack of security and stability in order to prevent it from moving toward development and prosperity.

Iraqi politicians, like people on the street, were aghast at the scale of the attacks.

"If the government is powerless to provide security for the people, it should resign," said Maysoon al Damaluj, a spokesman for the Iraqiya bloc, led by Ayad Allawi, the chief rival of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki.

Sadiq al Hussaini, the deputy chairman of the Diyala Provincial Council, blamed the attacks on Iraq's continuing internal political rivalries.

"Al Qaida and groups affiliated with it take advantage of the continuous discord and crises in the political scene to implement their agenda," he said. "If the politicians would only work out their differences at the table and unite in their efforts, they would strip al Qaida and any other criminal group of the opportunity to grow and operate in Iraq and kill innocent people."

(Issa is a McClatchy special correspondent.)

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McClatchy Newspapers 2012

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