Kut (Iraq), Aug 15: Attacks in more than a dozen cities across Iraq today killed 66 people, including 40 in twin blasts in the southern city of Kut, in the country's bloodiest day this year.
The surge of violence raises questions over the capabilities of Iraq's forces after its leaders agreed to open talks with the US over a military training mission to last beyond a projected year-end American withdrawal.
The attacks, which took place in 17 cities and wounded more than 230 people, were quickly condemned by parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi, who blamed security leaders for unspecified “violations.”
In today's worst attack, a roadside bomb in the centre of Kut, 160 kilometres south of Baghdad, at 8:00 am (1030 IST) was followed minutes later by a nearby car bomb, medical and security officials said.
“I was on my way to my shop in the market and suddenly I felt myself being thrown to the ground,” said 26-year-old Saadun Muftin, speaking from the city's Karama hospital. “After that I found myself in the hospital with wounds all over my body.”
Another shopkeeper, Mohammed Jassim, described “smoke everywhere” in the square where the blasts took place.
Ghalid Rashid Khazaa, health spokesman for Wasit province, of which Kut is the capital, put the toll at 40 dead and 65 wounded, with both figures including women and children. Security officials cordoned off the site of the attacks in their aftermath.
The attack was the worst single incidence of violence in Iraq since March 29, when al-Qaeda commandos staged a massive assault on provincial government offices in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, eventually killing 58 people.
The violence shattered a relative calm in Iraq during the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which began at the start of August. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks.
US and Iraqi commanders assess that while al-Qaeda and other insurgent groups are markedly weaker compared to the peak of Iraq's sectarian war in 2006 and 2007, they are still capable of carrying out massive coordinated attacks.
In Tikrit today, meanwhile, three policemen were killed and at least seven were wounded when two suicide bombers blew up their explosives-packed vests inside the city's anti-terror headquarters.
“They managed to enter wearing police uniforms and using fake IDs, passing three checkpoints,” said a security official, speaking on condition of anonymity. He said among those killed in the attack were Salaheddin province's deputy anti-terror chief.
“They were trying to free Al-Qaeda fighters from the anti-terror department's jail,” the official added. In the restive province of Diyala, north of Baghdad, eight people were killed and 35 wounded in a series of attacks in provincial capital Baquba and five other cities, Diyala health department spokesman Faris al-Azzawi said.
Four of the dead were soldiers gunned down at an Iraqi army checkpoint in Baquba, according to Firas al-Dulaimi, a doctor in the city's main hospital. AFP