At Least 99 Killed in Attacks Across Iraq

A suicide bomber blew himself up outside a textile factory Monday in a crowd that gathered after two car bombings at the same spot in the worst of a series of attacks killing nearly 100 across Iraq, the deadliest day this year.

In the latest series of attacks that killed 99 people, three bombs hit the southern Shiite port city of Basra in the evening. At least one exploded in a marketplace, killing at least 15, hospital and police officials said.

The violence began in the capital where at least 10 people were killed in what appeared to be coordinated attacks against police and army checkpoints across Baghdad. Gunmen opened fire on police and army checkpoints in the eastern and western parts of the capital between 5 a.m. and 6:30 a.m., killing four police officers and three soldiers and wounding 12 members of the security forces, the Interior Ministry said. Most of the incidents were drive-by shootings in which assailants wearing uniforms of city government employed cleaners used weapons fixed with silencers to spray checkpoints and patrols with bullets. Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, spokesman for Baghdad’s security operations center, said Iraqi security forces arrested one suspect and seized a pistol with a silencer. “Despite strong strikes that broke al-Qaeda, there are some cells still working, attempting to prove their existence and their influence,” al-Moussawi said, calling the attacks “hysterical”. (Reuters) Checkpoints punctuate virtually every street and intersection in Baghdad, but basic discipline often appears lax at them. At an army checkpoint in eastern Baghdad, two gunmen approached and shot a guard sitting on a chair, and another using the bathroom; two other guards were asleep, according to soldiers there. “If they are strong enough,” one soldier, who would identify himself only as Ali, said defiantly, “let them come to us face to face.” (New York Times)

Two car bombs exploded in quick succession at the entrance to the textile factory in Hilla, the capital of Babil province 60 miles (95 kilometres) south of Baghdad, just as workers boarded buses to go home in the middle of the day. Khalid said the two car bombs parked outside the factory about 25 yards (metres) apart exploded first as workers were leaving the factory around 1:30 p.m. They were believed to be detonated by remote control. Later, as emergency services rushed in to help the wounded, a suicide bomber detonated explosives causing a third explosion. At least 45 people were killed and more than 140 were wounded. Witnesses said they saw the blood pooled and pieces of flesh on the ground outside the factory. “Terrified people were running in different directions,” said Jassim Znad Abid, a taxi driver who lives in Hillah. “I saw dead people, some burned and crying, wounded people on the ground that was covered with pools of blood. Dozens of wounded people asking for help were laying on the ground.” (The Associated Press)

Babil provincial Gov. Salman Nassir al-Zarqani ordered flags lowered to half-staff and a three-day mourning period. “This looks like a major campaign by the terrorists, not just in Hilla,” al-Zarqani said. (Reuters) In an interview with Iraqi state TV, al-Zarqani said he was informed Sunday that the factory was under threat, but cited too many security gaps across Babil to protect all sites he feared could be targeted. “There are many fragile places especially in the north of Babil… and there are a lot of security gaps there,” al-Zargawi said. “So we are facing a daily challenge in Babil.” (The Associated Press)

In other attacks Monday, the small town of Suwayrah, 25 miles (40 kilometres) south of Baghdad, was hit by a pair of bombs – one in a parked car and the other planted along a road – that killed 11 passers-by and wounded more than 40. A security officer described the attack here as an effort to deepen the country’s political turmoil. “They are targeting the political process,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to comment publicly. “They do not want the government to be formed.” (New York Times)

In Tarmiyah, 30 miles (50 kilometres) north of Baghdad, city Mayor Mohammad Jassim was injured when bombs in parked cars targeted his convoy. In all, five people were killed and 18 injured in the attack, said a city police official. At least six people were killed west of Baghdad in the city of Abu Ghraib by three different bombings, Iraqi officials said.

The southern oil hub of Basra was struck by three car bomb attacks, killing at least 20 people and wounding dozens more. Witnesses told CNN a curfew has been imposed and security forces deployed across Basra.

In the city of Falluja, four people were killed and at least 10 civilians were wounded when four roadside bombs were detonated outside the homes of four police officers. In the northern city of Kirkuk, a Sunni Sons of Iraq leader was killed when a bomb attached to his vehicle detonated in the southwestern part of the city. Seven more were killed in four separate attacks stretching from the northern city of Mosul to the Shiite city of Musayyib south of Baghdad.

At least eight people were wounded when a parked car bomb detonated south of Baghdad in Mahmoudiya south of Baghdad Monday evening. Mahmoudiya is a predominantly Sunni town, part of what formerly was known as the Sunni Triangle, and an al-Qaeda stronghold at the height of the sectarian war.

The violence delivered a chilling reminder that insurgents are still able to stage large scale operations despite security gains by Iraqi and U.S. forces over past years.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility. The government blamed al-Qaeda in Iraq for violence in Baghdad, saying the terror group is stepping up its attacks now to exploit political instability.More than two months after the March 7 elections, it is not clear who will control the next Iraqi government and the U.S. is planning to pull out half of its 92,000 troops over the next four months.

Violence in Iraq has fallen dramatically since the height of insurgency in 2006 and 2007. But the political vacuum in the wake of the inconclusive election has raised the risk that sectarian violence will pick up again.“Al-Qaeda is trying to… use some gaps created by some political problems,” the Iraqi security spokesman told Arabiya TV. “There are well-known agendas for the terrorist groups operating in Iraq. Some of these groups are supported regionally and internationally with the aim of influencing the political and democratic process inside Iraq.” (The Associated Press) U.S. Maj. Gen. Stephen Lanza, the top military spokesman in Iraq, said the attacks show “there is a threat out there that we have to be concerned about, and the threat is still capable.” (The Associated Press)

Both Shiites and Sunnis were targeted in attacks around the country. Sunni anger at Shiite domination of successive governments was a key reason behind the insurgency and if Allawi is perceived as not getting his fair share of power, that could in turn outrage the Sunnis who supported him.

Former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi’s Iraqiya coalition, a secular group heavily backed by the Sunni Arab minority, edged out Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s religious Shiite bloc by two seats in the parliamentary election but neither won an outright majority, forcing them to seek partners to form a ruling coalition. At a news conference on Monday before a meeting of Iraqiya’s winning candidates, Allawi repeated his assertion that his bloc had the right to make the first attempt at forming a government. “We will not allow … our hands to be tied against attempts to undermine Iraqiya and confiscate the will of the Iraqi electors,” he said. (Reuters)

Last week al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition formed an alliance with the religious Shiite Iraqi National Alliance believed to have strong backing from Iran, a deal that put them four seats short of a majority in parliament and did not include Allawi. The pact could lead to four years of another Shiite-dominated government much like the current one.

One of Iraq’s two vice presidents, Adel Abdul Mahdi, called for speeding the formation of a new government to prevent “any attempt by terrorist gangs to use the circumstances in the country to hurt the Iraqi people and the armed forces.” (New York Times)

A member of the departing Parliament’s security committee, Bahaa al-Aaji, pointedly blamed the security forces for unclear loyalties and “the arrogance that inflicted the generals” because of improved security that, he emphasized, the American military had achieved and Iraq’s military was squandering. “The top military leaders are preoccupied with the political situation,” he said in a telephone interview. “Each is affiliated to a party or a bloc, and some have participated in the election, and so their priority is no longer security.” (New York Times)

A U.S. State Department spokesman said in Washington U.S. operations and personnel in Iraq had not been affected by Monday’s attacks. “These attacks will not undermine the confidence the Iraqi people have demonstrated in their government and their security forces,” he said. “The Iraqi people overwhelmingly reject violence as a way to address their political differences.” (Reuters)

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