A wave of attacks on Tuesday in more than a dozen Iraqi cities killed at least 45 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 more than 190 people wounded, bore the hallmarks of Al-Qaeda, which typically tries to launch coordinated nationwide mass-casualty bombing campaigns, although no one immediately claimed responsibility.
It 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 the violence as “atrocious”.
Bombings and shootings rocked 14 towns and cities spanning the northern oil hub of Kirkuk and the Shiite shrine city of Karbala, south of Baghdad, from 7:00am (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.”
In central Baghdad, a car bomb exploded in the car park opposite the foreign ministry, despite dramatically heightened security 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.
Coupled with Kurdish New Year festival Nowruz on Wednesday and the weekly Muslim day of prayer on Friday, much of the country will be largely closed until after the summit, while security forces have mooted the possibility of imposing a city-wide curfew on March 29, when Arab leaders are expected in Baghdad. Tuesday’s deadliest attacks occurred in Kirkuk and Karbala, where 26 people died in total.
In ethnically-mixed Kirkuk, a suicide bomber blew up a vehicle at a police building, killing 13 people and wounding 50.
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.