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Al-Qaeda-linked group asserts responsibility for 37 Baghdad attacks

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BAGHDAD — A terrorist group affiliated with al-Qaeda has asserted responsibility for 37 recent attacks in Iraq’s capital, including what the organization called a failed attempt to assassinate the prime minister, as violence continued throughout the country Monday.

The latest attacks — targeting Shiite pilgrims, police officers, at least one army officer and a bank executive — heightened fears in a country reeling from a series of bombings in the wake of the departure of U.S. troops last month. Iraq also remains locked in a political crisis, a large part of it being played out along sectarian lines.

On Monday, five people were killed and 32 were injured in a car bombing outside a Shiite mosque in Baghdad, according to security officials speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. A blast 30 minutes earlier killed seven people and injured 19 in the capital, the officials said.

Also, the chairman of a private bank and her husband were fatally shot inside their garage by men with silencer-equipped pistols, the officials said.

On Monday evening, two bombs blew up near a federal police patrol in Baghdad’s Jasr Diala neighborhood, injuring three officers and three civilians, security officials said. About the same time, a bomb exploded under a car in the city’s al-Qahera neighborhood, wounding two men.

To the west of Baghdad, in the Fallujah area, a soldier was killed and three others were injured near a military base when a bomb exploded under his vehicle. And a member of the Sons of Iraq, a group of Sunni fighters who helped U.S. troops battle forces of the organization al-Qaeda in Iraq, was killed in a blast near the gate of his house, said Lt. Col. Najim al-Dulaimi, a spokesman for Anbar province’s operations command.

South of Baghdad, attacks continued against at least two groups of Shiite pilgrims. One person was killed and at least 22 were injured, according to security officials.

Othman al-Ghanimi, head of the middle Euphrates operations command, said forces stopped an explosives-laden car and arrested the driver, who was carrying a special badge authorizing him to enter the holy city of Karbala, where the pilgrims are headed.

It was not clear whether anyone had asserted responsibility for the Monday attacks.

But the earlier attacks were the work of the Islamic State of Iraq, the al-Qaeda affiliate asserted on Internet message forums, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, a monitoring service.

The group said that on Nov. 28, a bomber exploited a security “loophole” in Baghdad’s Green Zone and drove an explosives-laden vehicle inside with the intent of striking Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, according to SITE. But the vehicle detonated prematurely outside the parliament building, the SITE report said.

The Islamic State of Iraq also asserted responsibility for a Dec. 26 bombing outside Iraq’s Interior Ministry, which houses the country’s internal security forces, and for a wave of bombings in Baghdad on Dec. 22. The group said the attacks were carried out as revenge for the detention of Sunnis in Shiite prisons, according to SITE.

Iskander Witwit, a ranking member of the parliament’s security and defense committee, cautioned against accepting the terrorist group’s assertions of responsibility for the bombing outside parliament. He said officials continue to investigate the attack.

Ali Hadi al-Moussawi, a spokesman for Maliki, said the prime minister was targeted because he is committed to “the destruction of al-Qaeda.”

He added that al-Qaeda in Iraq “may perpetrate crimes, but that will only increase the unity of the Iraqi people.” Moussawi said lapses in Green Zone security have been addressed.

The terrorist group has bragged in its Internet postings about its ability “to penetrate the complicated military and security complex of the fortified Green Zone, which the Crusader enemy had spent billions upon,” according to SITE.

Referring to the November attack, the terrorists said that in “His wisdom,” God intervened as the driver was on the way to Maliki’s office by “creating a specific defect so that the vehicle exploded while it was parked behind the entrance of the parliament, causing the death and wounding of many people,” according to SITE.

Sterling Jensen, who studies the Islamic State of Iraq at the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies, said the group is targeting Shiites to create the impression that it is defending Sunnis. “It is a sign they want sectarian violence to increase,” he said.

Joost Hiltermann, deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa program at the International Crisis Group, said “it’s too early to tell” whether the organization is getting stronger. The group is Sunni-based, motivated by a hatred of Shiite power and Iran, and it sees Iran as controlling Iraq’s government, Hiltermann said.

The terrorists are trying to instigate Iraqi security forces to strike back against the country’s Sunni population — igniting a full-scale sectarian war, he said.

“They want to create a chaotic situation,” Hiltermann added.

Special correspondents Aziz Alwan and Asaad Majeed in Baghdad contributed to this report.

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