BAGHDAD (AP) — A startling spasm of violence shook more than a dozen Iraqi cities yesterday, killing more than 100 people in coordinated bombings and shootings and wounding twice as many in the country’s deadliest day in more than two years.
The attacks came only days after al-Qaida announced it would attempt a comeback with a new offensive against Iraq’s weakened government.
With the U.S. military gone and the government mired in infighting, the Iraqi wing of al-Qaida has vowed to retake areas it once controlled and push the nation back toward civil war. Though there was no immediate claim of responsibility for yesterday’s attacks, nearly all of them struck in the capital and in northern Iraqi cities where al-Qaida can most easily regain a foothold.
“Terrorists are opening another gate of hell for us,” said Kamiran Karim, a sweets-seller in the northern city of Kirkuk, which was hit by five exploding cars throughout the morning. He suffered shrapnel wounds when one of the car bombs blew up about 200 meters (yards) from his cart.
So far this summer, militants linked to al-Qaida have claimed responsibility for a steady drumbeat of attacks designed to keep the government off-balance as it works to overcome a power struggle that pits Sunni and Kurdish leaders against the Shiite prime minister. The infighting, which escalated the day after the U.S. military withdrew last December, has all but paralyzed the government and deepened sectarian tensions around the country.
Iraqi and U.S. officials insist al-Qaida is incapable of sowing the kind of widespread violence that would return Iraq to sectarian warfare. And indeed, Shiite militias so far have held back from returning fire. But yesterday’s attacks prove al-Qaida’s continued ability to thwart security, undermine the government and create chaos in a fragile democracy that experts fear is headed toward a failed state.
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, accused militants of “spreading panic and fear” and urged political parties to resolve their differences and help restore stability.