Bombings across Iraq kill scores, injure hundreds
BAGHDAD -- At least 61 people were killed and 219 wounded in coordinated bombings across Iraq over a three-hour span Wednesday morning.
The bloody attacks, in at least a dozen cities and towns from Basra in the south to Mosul in the north, came a day after the U.S. military announced that the number of U.S. troops has dropped below 50,000 for the first time since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
The combination of roadside bombs and car bombs largely targeted security forces and appeared to represent a resounding statement by Sunni insurgents that they are still strong enough to topple police stations, set Iraqi army trucks ablaze and kill scores of people nationwide.
The countrywide attacks, also underscored the fear among Iraqis of what the future will bring as U.S. troop levels dwindle and a political stalemate nearly six months after national elections fuels a rise in assassinations and other violence.
The deadliest blast Wednesday ripped through the eastern city of Kut after a man drove a vehicle rigged with explosives into a central police station, killing at least 19 people and wounding at least 90 others, according to statements by police and medical officials.
Earlier, a man drove a vehicle weighed down by explosives into a northern Baghdad police station, toppling parts of the building. The blast reverberated through the neighborhood and the top floors of six homes were ripped a part. Shattered glass and debris littered the ground where at least 15 people, mostly civilians, were killed and 57 wounded.
On Wednesday evening, emergency response teams were still combing the rubble for two missing girls. Relatives of a mother and child and a father and son, killed in the blast, were erecting funeral tents.
"It was like hell," said Sarmad Abd al-Ghani, a shop owner. "It was like an earthquake. All of this is because the politicians are fighting over seats."
"People are afraid," said Amir Mohammed as residents searched a stranger's car before it parked.
Iraqi security officials were quick to blame the Sunni extremist group al-Qaeda in Iraq for the attacks.
"The terrorist aggressions against different parts of our country today are desperate attempts from al-Qaeda to disparage our security forces' performance after the American drawdown," Maj. Gen. Qassim Atta, the spokesman for Baghdad security forces, said on state television.
The U.S. military's top spokesman in Iraq said the attacks were designed to take advantage of "the ongoing frustrations of Iraqi people with the government impasse, as well as exploit the changing U.S. mission toward stability operations that takes effect Sept. 1.
"The fact that these events coincide with Ramadan only adds to extremists' desires to make a violent statement by murdering others and capturing the day's news. What the people need first and foremost is for the government to form now," Maj. Gen. Stephen Lanza said in an e-mailed response. "While we have said repeatedly that attacks were likely to occur during this period, the time and place can never be predicted. This is why our top priority in our ongoing role of advising, training and assisting the Iraqi security forces through 2011 is improving their overall operational capabilities."
As troop numbers dwindle, U.S. military officials said they have begun to see tactical cooperation among Sunni insurgent groups. Al-Qaeda in Iraq and Ansar al-Sunna Army have merged in parts of Mosul, Diyala and Kirkuk in the past four months. Al-Qaeda in Iraq has also turned to a nationalist insurgent group backed by ex-Baathists, Men of the Army of al-Naqshbandia Way, for financing.
Although the drawdown is a factor in the groups' increased activity, the driving force is shrinking resources, U.S. military officials said.
"They're cooperating at what we assess as the tactical level," said Col. Malcom Frost, who commands U.S. forces in Diyala and Salahuddin provinces. "They are losing capability, and they need one another."
firstname.lastname@example.org Special correspondent Jinan Hussein and others across the country contributed to this report.