Bomb blasts ripped through at least five Iraqi cities Monday morning, killing 42 people, most of them in the southern city of Kut, in a wave of violence that shattered what had been a relatively peaceful holy month of Ramadan.
The violence struck from the northern city of Kirkuk to the capital of Baghdad to the southern cities of Najaf and Kut, and emphasized the persistent ability of insurgents to wreak havoc at a time when Iraqi officials are weighing whether they are able to protect the country without the assistance of American troops.
The blasts were coordinated to go off in the morning and included a combination of parked car bombs, roadside bombs and a suicide bomber driving a vehicle that rammed into a police station.
The worst violence came in the southern city of Kut, 100 miles (160 kilometers) southeast of Baghdad, where twin explosions went off as construction workers were gathered in a market selling generators and other appliances.
Police spokesman Lt. Col. Dhurgam Mohammed Hassan said the first bomb went off in a freezer used to keep drinks cold. Then as rescuers and onlookers gathered, a parked car bomb exploded.
The top medical official in the province where Kut is located, Diaa al-Aboudi, said 34 people died in the explosion. Al-Aboudi put the number of the wounded from the twin blasts at 64.
At roughly the same time, a suicide car bomber plowed his vehicle into a checkpoint outside a police building just outside the holy city of Najaf, said Luay al-Yassiri, head of the Najaf province security committee.
Police opened fire on the vehicle when the driver refused to stop at the checkpoint, and then the vehicle exploded. Al-Yassiri said four people were killed and 32 injured; among the dead were two policemen and two civilians.
In the northern city of Tikrit, two men wearing explosives belts drove into a heavily guarded government compound wearing military uniforms which helped them avoid notice by the guards, said Mohammed al-Asi, the provincial spokesman.
The men parked their vehicle and then walked to a building housing the anti-terrorism police. When the men approached the building, the guards ordered them to stop and then opened fire. One bomber was immediately killed but the other managed to get inside the building before blowing himself up and killed three people, al-Asi said. Ten people were also injured in the attack.
It was another embarrassing security breach for security officials at the compound. Earlier this year, insurgents managed to penetrate the compound's security and attack a mosque where many prominent officials were at prayer.
In the northern city of Kirkuk, a car bomb exploded next to a police patrol Monday morning, injuring four police officers. Then about thirty minutes later one person was killed when a motorcycle with a bomb planted inside it exploded. Late Sunday, four bombs also blew up near a Syrian Orthodox Church in Kirkuk. No one was injured in the attack but the walls of the church were damaged.
In Baghdad, a parked car bomb exploded near a convoy carrying officials from the Ministry of Higher Education, said police and health officials. Eight people were wounded, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media. The minister was not inside the convoy.
Violence has dropped considerably in Iraq from the heyday of the war when such bloody bombings were an almost daily occurrence. But the persistence of the violence in Iraq, albeit at a lower level, underscores the ability of insurgents to undermine the country's security.
The Kut blasts were the first major act of violence since Iraq's political leaders earlier this month announced that they would begin negotiations with the United States over whether to keep a small number of American forces in the country past Dec. 31. The last such single large bombing came on July 5, when 37 people died during an explosion in Taji, north of Baghdad.
All American forces are to leave the country by the end of this year but both Iraqi and U.S. officials have expressed concern about the ability of Iraqi forces to protect the country.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Monday's attacks.