Baghdad: Bombings across Iraq killed 46 people today striking at police and Shia pilgrims in a torrent of violence that officials had dreaded in the run-up to a Baghdad meeting of the Arab worldâ€™s top leaders, which the government hoped would showcase the nationâ€™s stability.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks, which also wounded nearly 200 people. But authorities have feared al-Qaida or its Sunni sympathizers would try to thwart next weekâ€™s annual Arab League summit.
The gathering is to be held in Iraq for the first time in a generation. Plans for Baghdad to host the meeting last year were postponed, in part because of concerns about Iraqâ€™s security.
One of the deadliest strikes today hit the Shia holy city of Karbala, where officials said two car bombs exploded in a crowded shopping and restaurant area.
Thirteen people were killed and another 50 were wounded in that attack, said local provincial council member Hussein Shadhan al-Aboudi.
â€œThe intention of these attacks is to destabilize the security situation in Karbala and other Iraqi cities and to shake the peopleâ€™s confidence on the government,â€ al-Aboudi said.
â€œIt seems that the terrorists want to abort the upcoming Arab Summit in Baghdad. The message is directed to the Arab leaders that Iraq is not safe enough to be visited.â€
Karbala, 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Baghdad, is a destination for thousands of Shia pilgrims from around the world who visit the golden shrines of two revered imams each day. Five Iranian pilgrims were among the dead. The wave of violence began after dawn.
Militants blew up the house of a police official in the western city of Fallujah, planted bombs near the fortified Green Zone and shot up a security checkpoint in Baghdad, set off an explosion at a police station in the northern city of Kirkuk and attacked restaurants and shopping areas in two southern towns.
In all, eight cities were hit in attacks that mostly appeared to target police and government officials.
Police and health officials in each city who confirmed the casualties spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Thirteen people, most of them policemen, were killed in Kirkuk, said Brig. Gen. Sarhad Qadir. An additional 59 were wounded. Kirkuk is 180 miles (290 kilometers) north of Baghdad.
Officials have been bracing for attacks in the run-up to the Arab League summit during which the Shiite-led government hopes to showcase Iraqâ€™s improved security and stability since the sectarian fighting a few years ago that almost pulled the country into civil war.
Two of the attacks today hit right outside the Green Zone where the summit will be held.
Extremists have launched large-scale attacks in Iraq every few weeks for nearly a year. The violence now is nowhere as frequent as it was during the tit-for-tat sectarian fighting a few years ago. But the attacks appear to be more deadly than they were before American militaryâ€™s withdrawal in late December.
The last widespread wave of attacks across Iraq, on February 23, killed 55 people and wounded more than 225.(KMW NEWS)