BAGHDAD, (Reuters) – At least 16 near-simultaneous explosions struck cities and towns across Iraq on Tuesday, killing at least 43 people and wounding more than 200, despite a massive security clampdown ahead of next week’s Arab League summit.
It was Iraq’s deadliest day in nearly a month, and the breadth of coordinated bombs in more than a dozen cities showed an apparent determination by insurgents to prove that the government cannot keep the country safe ahead of the summit.
Iraq is due to host the meeting for the first time in 20 years and the government is determined to show it can maintain security following the withdrawal of U.S. troops in December.
Tuesday’s deadliest incident occurred in the southern Shi’ite Muslim holy city of Kerbala, where twin explosions killed 13 people and wounded 48 during the morning rush hour, according to Jamal Mahdi, a Kerbala health department spokesman.
“The second explosion caused the biggest destruction. I saw body parts, fingers, hands thrown on the road,” 23-year-old shop owner Murtadha Ali Kadhim told Reuters.
“The security forces are stupid because they always gather at the site of an explosion and then a second explosion occurs. They become a target.”
Within about two hours blasts also struck in the capital, in Kirkuk, Baiji, Samarra, Tuz Khurmato, Daquq and Dhuluiya to the north, in Ramadi in the west, and Hilla, Latifiya and Mahmudiya in the south. Police defused bombs in Baquba and Falluja.
Most of the blasts targeted police checkpoints and patrols.
“This latest spate of attacks is very likely to have been co-ordinated by a large and well-organized group. It is likely an attempt to show the authorities that their security measures are insignificant,” said John Drake, a senior risk consultant at AKE Group, which studies security in Iraq for corporate clients.
Army and police forces are frequently targeted in Iraq, where bombings and shootings still occur on a daily basis. Sunni Muslim insurgent groups say that despite the withdrawal of U.S. forces, they will not lay down arms and will continue to battle the Shi’ite-led government.
Although overall violence has declined since the height of sectarian fighting in 2006 and 2007, many Iraqis worry whether their government has the wherewithal to impose security nine years after the U.S.-led invasion that overthrew Saddam Hussein.
Tuesday’s attacks were the biggest since February 23 when dozens of explosions across the country killed at least 60 people in one of the bloodiest days of violence this year.
The Arab League summit is due to be held in Baghdad on March 27-29 and security has been stepped up across the city’s checkpoints, where thorough searches have backed up traffic for hours this week.
In the northern city of Kirkuk, two car bombs exploded near a police headquarters, killing nine people and wounding 42, police and health sources said. In Baghdad, a car bomb near the provincial council building killed four and wounded 11.
Police in the northeastern city of Baquba said they had found and defused eight bombs and police in Falluja in the west said they had defused a roadside bomb.
By midday, the toll from all the bombings compiled by Reuters from police and hospital sources stood at 43 killed and 233 wounded.
On Monday evening, bombers struck five times in the northern province of Diyala, killing at least three people and wounding more than 30, police said.