Iraq: String of attacks across country kills 31

BAGHDAD: Insurgents launched what appeared to be a highly coordinated string of attacks in several parts of Iraq on Monday morning, killing at least 31 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.

Windows rattled from the force of a blast in central Baghdad when a bomb struck the central commercial district of Karrada.

In another of the Baghdad explosions, a parked car bomb exploded in a bus station in the eastern suburbs of Kamaliya, killing four. 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.

A total of 10 were killed in the Baghdad attacks.

In Kirkuk, an oil-rich city about 290 kilometers (180 miles) from Baghdad, police said nine people were killed when six car bombs went off simultaneously. Three bombs exploded downtown — one in an Arab district, one in a Kurdish one, and one in a Turkomen district. The rest went off elsewhere in the city, which is home to a mix of ethnic groups with competing claims.

In addition to the bombings, drive-by shooters armed with pistols fitted with silencers shot and killed a police officer while he was driving his car in the two of Tarmiyah, 30 miles (50 kilometers) north of Baghdad.

Hospital officials confirmed the casualty tolls. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to release details to reporters.

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 most serious attack Sunday happened when a booby-trapped body exploded among a group of policemen, who were trying to inspect the body that was left in the street.

Iraqis vote Saturday in what will be the country’s first election 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.