Blasts sweep across Iraq
Series of attacks kills dozens, sows doubts
BAGHDAD — Insurgents unleashed a wave of coordinated attacks across Iraq yesterday in a demonstration of their ability to strike at will and their zeal to provide a jagged counterpoint to American aspirations of bringing the war in Iraq “to a responsible end.’’
In attacks in 13 towns and cities, from southernmost Basra to restive Mosul in the north, insurgents deployed their full arsenal: hit-and-run shootings, roadside mines, and more than a dozen car bombs. The toll was in the dozens, but the symbolism underscored a theme of America’s experience here: Its deadlines, including the Aug. 31 date to end combat operations, have rarely reflected the tumultuous reality on the ground and have often been accompanied by insurgent attacks.
“The message the insurgents want to deliver to the Iraqi people and the politicians is that we exist, and we choose the time and place,’’ said Wael Abdel-Latif, a judge and former lawmaker. “They are carrying out such attacks when the Americans are still here, so just imagine what they can do after the Americans leave.’’
In coming days, the Obama administration will seek to portray the reduction in troops here to fewer than 50,000, reached Tuesday, as a turning point in seven years of invasion, occupation, and war. The president will deliver a speech on Tuesday marking the deadline. The following day, the mission will be renamed “New Dawn’’ at a ceremony expected to draw much of the military brass to a sprawling base near the Baghdad airport.
Throughout the partial withdrawal, American officials have insisted that, while work remains, Iraq’s army and police force are ready to inherit sole control over security.
Military officials have said they believe that insurgents number only in the hundreds, and the military has issued a daily drumbeat of announcements that noted insurgents have been arrested or killed.
Yesterday’s attacks, which killed at least 56 people, many of them police officers, were seemingly the insurgents’ reply. The mostly Sunni militants proved an ability to undertake sophisticated attacks almost anywhere in Iraq, capitalizing on the Shi’ite-led government’s dysfunction and perceptions of US vulnerability.
“The countdown has begun to return Iraq to the embrace of Islam and its Sunnis, with God’s permission,’’ read a statement on a prominent insurgent website.
Beginning with the car bombing of a police station in the northern Baghdad neighborhood of Qahira, the attacks sowed chaos and confusion among the Iraqi police and soldiers who responded. Twice, police officers brawled with soldiers at the scene, where the blast sheared the top floors off six houses and bent streetlights like paper clips. In each confrontation, a shot was fired into the air before officers broke up the fight.
The police kept angry residents away, but the residents, in turn, heckled them for their impotence in stopping the blast.
“You get millions of dinars in salaries and you won’t let us help our families?’’ one youth shouted. Another cried, “You just take money and don’t care about us!’’
An Iraqi investigator walked by. “This is the state?’’ he muttered. “This is the government?’’
For weeks, there had been a sense of inevitability to the assaults, and US military officials had warned that the insurgents would seek to show their prowess during the holy month of Ramadan. But the anticipation seemed to do little to prepare security forces for the breadth of the strikes, which followed what has become a daily campaign of bombings, hit-and-run attacks, and assassinations against security forces and officials in Baghdad and elsewhere.
The names of the places where police were attacked read like a history of the war: Fallujah, Ramadi, Tikrit, Kirkuk, Basra, Karbala, and Mosul.
In one of the worst assaults, in the southern city of Kut, Iraqi officials said a car bomb detonated by its driver killed 19 people and wounded 87, most of them police officers. The attack destroyed the police station near the provincial headquarters.
In Diyala Province, five roadside bombs were detonated in the morning in Buhriz. The first was against a police patrol, the second against reinforcements who were heading to the scene, and three others targeting houses belonging to policemen, officials said. They were followed by a car bomb that struck the provincial headquarters in Baquba, northeast of Baghdad, killing three people.