Bombs hit Iraq before summit

Bombs hit Iraq before summit

Bombs hit Iraq before summit

Iraqi security forces inspect the site of a bomb attack in Kirkuk, where thirteen were killed and 50 wounded. It was Iraq’s bloodiest day in nearly a month. REUTERS photo

A series of coordinated attacks in more than a dozen cities across Iraq killed at least 45 people and wounded more than 200, just days before Baghdad hosts a landmark Arab League summit.

It was Iraq’s bloodiest day in nearly a month and the attacks showed an apparent determination by insurgents to prove that the government cannot keep the country safe ahead of the summit. Iraq is due to host the meeting for the first time in 20 years on March 27-29, and the government is anxious to show it can maintain security following the withdrawal of U.S. troops in December. Authorities have long feared that al-Qaeda or its Sunni sympathizers will try to thwart this year’s summit. Plans for Baghdad to host the meeting last year were postponed, in part because of concerns about Iraq’s security.

The deadliest attacks occurred in Kirkuk and Karbala, where a total of 26 people died. In the Shiite holy city of Karbala, officials said two car bombs had exploded in a crowded shopping and restaurant area. Thirteen people were killed and another 50 were wounded in that assault. In the ethnically mixed Kirkuk, a suicide bomber blew up a vehicle at a police building, killing 13 and wounding 50.

Police checkpoints and patrols targeted
Blasts also struck the capital Baghdad, Baiji, Baquba, Daquq, Dibis, Dhuluiya, Kirkuk, Mosul, Samarra, Tuz Khurmato to the north, Falluja and Ramadi to the west and Hilla, Latifiya, Mahmudiya and Mussayab to the south. Police defused bombs in Baquba, Falluja and Mosul. Most of the blasts targeted police checkpoints and patrols. “The goal of today’s attacks was to present a negative image of the security situation in Iraq,” government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said. “Security efforts will be escalated to counteract terrorist groups’ attacks and to fill loopholes used by them to infiltrate security, whether in Baghdad or other provinces.”

Last week, the government said Iraq would deploy an unprecedented number of security forces to protect the capital for the summit. An estimated 26,000 police and soldiers, including more than 4,000 from Iraq’s north and south, are expected to be deployed in Baghdad. But citizens and lawmakers have questioned whether Baghdad will be safe during the League’s meeting.

The last widespread wave of attacks across Iraq, on Feb. 23, killed 55 people and wounded more than 225. Al-Dabbagh yesterday announced a weeklong federal holiday in Baghdad, from March 25-31, during which government offices will be shut down.

When the Arab heads of state fly in to Baghdad on March 29, officials will try to impose a curfew in the city, shutting off roads near the Green Zone and encouraging people to stay at home.

Compiled from AFP, AP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff.