, BAGHDAD, Mar 20 – A wave of attacks Tuesday in more than a dozen Iraqi cities killed at least 44 people on the anniversary of the US-led invasion of the country, just days before Baghdad hosts a landmark Arab summit.
The violence, which left 190 people wounded, bore the hallmarks of Al-Qaeda, which typically attempts to launch coordinated nationwide mass-casualty bombing campaigns, though there was no immediate claim of responsibility.
The bloodletting was swiftly condemned by Iraq’s parliament speaker as a bid by the jihadist group to derail this month’s summit, while United Nations envoy Martin Kobler described it as “atrocious.”
Officials said bombings and gun attacks rocked 14 towns and cities spanning the northern oil-rich hub of Kirkuk and the southern shrine city of Karbala from 7:00 am (0400 GMT), in the deadliest violence to strike Iraq in more than two months.
“We lost everything,” said Mohammed Sobheh, a policeman wounded in the Kirkuk attack. “Not one of my colleagues is alive — they were all killed.”
“I will never forget their screams, as long as I live.”
In central Baghdad, a car bomb exploded in the parking lot opposite the foreign ministry, despite dramatically heightened security measures in the capital in preparation for the March 27-29 Arab League summit.
At least three people were killed and nine wounded, officials said, underscoring concerns over Iraq’s ability to maintain security for the meeting.
Parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi condemned Tuesday’s “brutal criminal” attacks, and said they were part of efforts by Al-Qaeda to “derail the Arab summit, and keep Iraq feeling the effects of violence and destruction.”
Following the attacks, the government declared a week of public holidays from March 25 to April 1.
Coupled with the Nowruz holiday on Wednesday and the weekly day of prayer on Friday, much of the country will be largely closed until the end of the Arab League summit, while security forces have mooted the possibility of imposing a city-wide curfew on March 29, when Arab heads are expected in Baghdad.
Tuesday’s deadliest attacks occurred in Kirkuk and Karbala, where 26 people died in total.
In ethnically-mixed Kirkuk, a car bomb targeting a police building killed 13 people and wounded 50 others, according to police Major Salam Zangana. All of the fatalities were police, as were the vast majority of those hurt.
The explosion, which was followed minutes later by a smaller car bomb, also badly damaged dozens of police cars and nearby homes belonging mostly to the tiny Kakaiyah religious minority.
“We have also received parts of bodies, but we do not know who they belong to,” said Mohammed Abdullah, a doctor at Kirkuk hospital.
In Karbala, two roadside blasts at the entrance to the city killed 13 people and wounded 48, according to provincial health spokesman Jamal Mehdi.
Police spokesman Major Alaa Abbas of Karbala, which is south of Baghdad and home to the shrines of revered Shiite clerics Imam Hussein and Imam Abbas, confirmed the toll.
Hours before Tuesday’s foreign ministry attack, a car bomb set off by a suicide attacker in the centre of the capital killed four people and wounded eight, officials said.
An early-morning gun attack on a Baghdad church also left three police dead.
Car bombs in Hilla, south of Baghdad, and Ramadi, west of the capital, killed four people and wounded 42 others, officials said.
A roadside bomb blast later in the city targeting Anbar governor Qassim Mohammed Abed left two wounded, though Abed was unharmed.
Separate gun and bomb attacks in Salaheddin province killed four people, including a city councillor, police said.
Bombings in the main northern city of Mosul, the refinery town of Baiji, the northern towns of Baquba, Daquq and Al-Dhuluiyah, and the central town of Mahmudiyah left 31 people wounded. Another car bomb in the northern city of Samarra caused no casualties.
Tuesday’s violence was Iraq’s deadliest day since January 14, when 53 people were killed in a suicide bombing outside the southern port of Basra.
The attacks come on the ninth anniversary of the beginning of the US-led invasion of Iraq which ousted Saddam Hussein, and just days before Baghdad hosts an Arab League summit, the first meeting of the 22-nation body to be held in the capital since Saddam’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
Officials insist Iraq’s forces are capable of maintaining security for the summit, but admit they may need to effectively shut down Baghdad to do so.
Violence across the country is down from its peak in 2006 and 2007, but attacks remain common. A total of 150 Iraqis were killed in February, according to official figures.