REPORTING FROM BEIRUT AND BAGHDAD -- A series of explosions and shootings struck Tuesday across Iraq, leaving scores dead and injured a week before a major Arab summit in Baghdad aimed at showcasing the nation’s stability after the U.S. military withdrawal.
Starting shortly after dawn, at least 20 bombs exploded in 13 sites from Baghdad to the northern city of Kirkuk to the southern cities of Hillah and Karbala. The nationwide death toll was at least 46, with more than 200 injured, the Associated Press reported.
At least two car bombs struck near Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, where next week’s Arab League summit is scheduled to take place.
The attacks were apparently aimed at a range of targets: Shiite Muslim pilgrims, Iraqi police, an army patrol, government officials and guards outside a Christian church in Baghdad.
The audacious strikes exposed the vulnerabilities of Iraq’s massive security apparatus and highlighted the seemingly intractable political and sectarian violence that continues to consume the nation months after the U.S. withdrawal in December.
The violence across a vast geographical area also pointed to the organizing capabilities of Iraqi militants, who for years have honed their skills in coordinated attacks meant to undermine authority and terrorize the population.
On Tuesday, authorities pointed their fingers to the usual culprits: Sunni Muslim militants, possibly linked to Al Qaeda, who are waging a war against the Shiite-led government that assumed power after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion ousted Saddam Hussein, a secular Sunni.
To what extent Sunni religious factions are working in tandem with secular nationalist elements opposed to the government remains unclear. Sunni insurgents attacked the U.S. military for years, proving a lethal and skillful foe with special expertise in car bombs and roadside explosives.
The Sunni minority dominated Iraq’s Shiite majority until Hussein’s fall. Many Sunnis have rejected Shiite leadership that some view as subservient to neighboring Iran, a mostly Shiite nation.
-- Patrick J. McDonnell in Beirut and a special correspondent in Baghdad
Photo: Family members of Tamara Ammar, 12, who was killed in a car bomb, react before his burial in Najaf, south of Baghdad, on Tuesday. Credit: Alaa al-Marjani / Associated Press