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Iraq rocked by wave of blasts

55 are killed, 225 injured during attacks

Bakr al-Azzawi/Reuters

A bombing at a police station, in Balad, Iraq, left seven people dead. Similar attacks occurred across the country.

BAGHDAD - A wave of bombings across Iraq killed dozens of people yesterday morning, security officials said, in a grim indication of the strength of the insurgency two months after the US military completed its withdrawal.

Most of the attacks, which were carried out with car bombs and small arms, appeared to target security forces in the capital and other cities, authorities said. At least 55 people were killed and more than 225 wounded, according to local security officials, most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity.

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Although yesterday was not the deadliest day in Iraq since American forces completed their departure in late December, the attacks represented the most widespread operation yet mounted by suspected Sunni insurgents who have sought for years to topple the Shi’ite-led government in Baghdad.

The victims included several civilians, including some schoolchildren, security officials said.

Iraqi officials did not provide an official death toll, and few appeared on television to speak about, or condemn, the attacks. Osama al-Nujaifi, the speaker of Parliament, issued a statement saying the attacks represented an attempt to “flare up strife’’ among Iraqis.

Nujaifi said the assailants might have been trying to ignite fears about security to dissuade regional officials from attending the annual Arab summit scheduled to be held in Baghdad next month.

Lawmakers passed a bill yesterday approving the purchase of 350 armored vehicles for their personal use, worth more than $50 million. As the casualties mounted, Iraqis reacted with outrage and blamed the country’s fractured political leadership for the insecurity that continues to plague the country.

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“Today’s events mean that we have no government or that we have a weak one,’’ said Waleed al-Rubaie, a 34-year-old private sector worker. “The political disputes are behind today’s blasts.’’

Tension among Iraqi politicians has soared since US troops left, most notably after the issuance of an arrest warrant for the country’s Sunni vice president, Tariq al-Hashimi. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shi’ite, accused him of being involved in terrorist acts, a charge Hashimi has denied. The vice president has avoided arrest by staying in the semiautonomous Kurdish region in the north.

Wesam al-Auqali, 35, a blacksmith, said the country’s security forces remain unprepared and susceptible to bribes. Auqali said he recently drove a big truck loaded with construction materials into a neighborhood where such vehicles are banned because of the threat of car bombs. All it took was a $4 payoff to a police officer, he said.

“You can imagine how easy it is to get a car bomb past,’’ he said. “They can get as many as they want through a checkpoint.’’

Other Iraqis expressed similar disappointment in the country’s security forces.

“We want to know: What were the thousands of policemen and soldiers in Baghdad doing today while the terrorists were roaming the city and spreading violence?’’ said Ahmed al-Tamimi, who was working at an Education Ministry office a block away from a restaurant bombed in the Shi’ite neighborhood of Kazimiyah in northern Baghdad.

He described a hellish scene of human flesh and pools of blood at the restaurant, where another car bomb killed nine people and wounded 19.

Yesterday’s carnage followed a relatively quiet period in Baghdad and other normally violent cities, a lull that had led some Iraqis to speculate that Sunni insurgents had flooded into neighboring Syria to join the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad.

Days after the American military left, a Dec. 22 wave of bombs targeting Shi’ites killed at least 69 people. That happened twice more over the following three weeks, killing 78 and 53, respectively. Al Qaeda was blamed for them all.

Until the US troops left, the most sweeping attack of 2011 was in August in a multicity bombing spree that killed 63.

Fifteen of yesterday’s 26 attacks targeted security forces on patrols, at checkpoints, and around government and political offices. Six policemen were killed at their checkpoint in northern Baghdad in a predawn drive-by shooting. A suicide bomber blew up his car in front of a police station in Baqubah, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, killing two and wounding eight.

Baghdad bore the brunt of the latest attacks, with at least 23 dead, but assailants also struck in the northern provinces of Salahuddin and Kirkuk, in Anbar Province in the west, and in Babil Province, south of Baghdad.

In the Adhamiyah district of northern Baghdad, assailants raised the black flag of the Islamic State of Iraq, the umbrella organization that includes the local Al Qaeda group, according to security officials.

Material from the Associated Press was included in this report.

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