Karim Kadim, Associated Press
BAGHDAD — Bombings and shootings ripped across Iraq on Monday, killing at least 103 people in the deadliest day this year. The coordinated attacks in 13 cities sent a chilling warning that al-Qaida is slowly resurging in the security vacuum created by a weak government in Baghdad and the departure of the U.S. military seven months ago.
Though there was no immediate claim of responsibility, the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq declared on Sunday a new offensive aimed at sowing instability across the country.
Iraqi militants have kept up a steady drumbeat of deadly attacks since the U.S. pulled out in December, ending nearly a decade of war. They have sought to deepen the chaos created by the deepening sectarian political crisis that pits Sunni and Kurdish leaders against Shiite political powers. The latest violence bore most of the hallmarks of al-Qaida: the bombings and shootings all took place within a few hours of each other and struck mostly at security forces and government offices — favorite targets of the predominantly Sunni militants.
"Al-Qaida is trying to send a message that it is still strong and can choose the time and places to attack," said Shiite lawmaker Hakim al-Zamili, a member of parliament's security and defense committee, said Monday. He said weaknesses in Iraq's ability to gather intelligence about terror plots, or stop them despite security checkpoints has shown how toothless the government is in protecting its people.
Al-Zamili also raised the specter of al-Qaida infiltrating security forces. If these gaps are not closed quickly, he said, "the attacks and explosions will continue and al-Qaida will be stronger."
Nearly 200 people were wounded during the onslaught. Spokesmen for Iraq's government and Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki could not be immediately reached for comment.
Al-Qaida for years has been seeking to re-assert its might, although U.S. and Iraqi officials insist it is nowhere as strong as it was when the nation came to the brink of civil war between 2006-2008. But the militant group's local wing — known as the Islamic State of Iraq — is now seizing on the vacuum left by the Americans, Baghdad's fragmented government and the surge of Sunni rebels in neighboring Syria to regain strength.
Syria's uprising is dominated by the country's Sunni majority against the country's Alawite rulers. The Alawites are an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
Last weekend, the leader of al-Qaida's affiliate in Iraq warned that the militant network is returning to strongholds from which it was driven from while the American military was here.
"The majority of the Sunnis in Iraq support al-Qaida and are waiting for its return," Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, head of the Islamic State of Iraq since 2010, said in the statement that was posted on a militant website.
Previous al-Qaida offensives have failed to push the country into civil war, largely because Shiite militias in recent years have refused to join in with the kind of tit-for-tat killings that marked Iraq's descent six years ago. Additionally, for all its weaknesses, the Iraqi government now holds more authority than it did during those dark years, and, by and large, citizens have no desire to return down that path.
Still, the militant group appears to be banking on Iraq's fragility in its campaign to throw it into permanent chaos. Sectarian tensions have risen due to a political crisis stemming from terror charges the Shiite-led government has filed against one of the country's vice presidents, who is one of Iraq's top Sunni officials. He says they are politically inspired.
Mohammed Munim, 35 who was working at an Interior Ministry office that issues government ID cards to residents in Baghdad's Shiite Sadr City neighborhood when a car exploded outside. Sixteen people were killed in the single attack, and a police colonel died in a Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad by a bomb hidden on his car.
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