Iraq attacks kill 36 less than a week before vote

By Sinan Salaheddin

Associated Press

Published: Monday, April 15 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

Civilians gather at the scene of a car bomb attack in east Baghdad's neighborhood of Kamaliya, Iraq, Monday, April 15, 2013. Less than a week before Iraqis in much of the country are scheduled to vote in the country's first elections since the 2011 U.S. troop withdrawal, a series of attacks across Iraq, many involving car bombs, has killed and wounded dozens of people, police said.

Khalid Mohammed, Associated Press

BAGHDAD — Insurgents launched what appeared to be a highly coordinated string of attacks across Iraq on Monday morning, killing at least 36 and wounding more than 200, according to officials.

The attacks, many involving car bombs, erupted less than a week before Iraqis in much of the country are scheduled to vote in the country's first elections since the 2011 U.S. troop withdrawal, testing security forces' ability to prevent bloodshed.

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.

Nearly all of the deadly attacks reported by police officials were bombings.

They were unusually broad in scope, striking not just Baghdad but also the western Sunni city of Fallujah, the ethnically contested oil-rich city of Kirkuk and towns in the predominantly Shiite south. Other attacks struck north of the capital, including the former al-Qaida stronghold of Baqouba and Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit.

The deadliest attacks were in Baghdad, where 15 people were killed. All occurred at around 9 a.m.

In the eastern suburbs of Kamaliya, a parked car bomb exploded in a bus station, killing four and wounding 13. Qassim Saad, an Arabic language teacher in an elementary school nearby, said his pupils began screaming as the explosion shattered windows and sparked panic.

He described a chaotic scene where security forces opened fire into the air upon arrival to disperse onlookers. Wooden carts carrying vegetables, fruit and other goods were overturned and stained with blood, and several nearby buildings and shops were damaged by the blast.

Like many Iraqis after major bombings, he criticized the government for not doing enough to prevent deadly attacks.

"I blame those who call themselves politicians in government (and) the security forces ... for this bad security situation. They are doing nothing to help the people and are only looking out for their benefits," he said.

Two more parked car bombs went off in a parking lot on the road that leads to Baghdad International Airport and killed three people, including a bodyguard of a Shiite lawmaker whose convoy was passing by. The lawmaker escaped unharmed. Sixteen others were wounded.

Four civilians were killed and 15 wounded when an explosion tore through a market and a bus station in the southwestern Umm al-Maalif neighborhood. A roadside bomb went off in the commercial Karrada neighborhood, killing two and wounding 15, while another parked car bomb explosion killed two and wounded nine in western Shurta neighborhood. Five policemen were wounded when their patrol was hit by a roadside bomb in eastern Baladiyat neighborhood.

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 civilians and wounding 18. Outside the city, three other parked car bombs killed five and wounded 16. Two of them targeted the house of a Shiite candidate for the provincial elections, but was not harmed.

Kirkuk, about 290 kilometers (180 miles) from Baghdad, is home to a mix of ethnic groups with competing claims to the oil-rich region.

In the former insurgent stronghold of Fallujah, the mayhem began around 6:30 a.m. when a suicide bomber drove an explosives-packed car into a police checkpoint, killing two policemen and wounding six others.

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