BAGHDAD – Insurgents in Iraq deployed a series of car bombs as part of highly coordinated attacks that cut across a wide swath of the country Monday, killing at least 55 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 U.S. troops withdrew. There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but coordinated attacks are a favorite tactic of al-Qaida’s Iraq branch.
Iraqi officials believe the insurgent group is growing stronger and increasingly coordinating with allies fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad across the border. They say rising lawlessness on the Syria-Iraq frontier and cross-border cooperation 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 the 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 slain in an apparent ambush Sunday.
Of course we are concerned about the violence in the country that has been increasing in the last weeks, U.N. envoy Martin Kobler told The Associated Press. 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 Maj. Gen. Hassan al-Baydhani, the No. 2 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.
Monday’s attacks – most of them car bombings – were unusually broad in scope. Among the places where attacks erupted were the Sunni-dominated western Anbar province and Saddam Hussein’s hometown 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 lawmaker whose convoy was passing by. The lawmaker escaped unharmed.
This attack and other attacks that took place today were part of the continuous efforts by al-Qaida terrorists to shake the security and political situation ahead of the upcoming elections, said Diaa al-Asadi, a political ally of the lawmaker who was traveling in the convoy.
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 neighborhoods.
In and around the ethnically mixed northern city of Kirkuk, three parked car bombs went off downtown simultaneously – one in an Arab district, one in a Kurdish one, and one in a Turkomen district – killing four. Three other car bombs exploded outside the city, killing five others.
Although violence in Iraq has fallen from its peak in 2006 and 2007, bombings and other attacks remain common.
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 Saturday will be the country’s first since U.S. 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.
Monday’s violence marked Iraq’s deadliest day since March 19, the eve of the 10th anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion, when a wave of bombings killed 65 across the country.