BAGHDAD — Fifty people died and more than 200 were wounded Tuesday in Iraq in a series of bombings and small-arms attacks that heightened worries about the safety of Arab leaders scheduled to attend a summit meeting here March 29.
The attacks took place in seven of Iraq's 18 provinces, a reminder that three months after the last U.S. troops withdrew security remains a concern in much of the country.
In the wake of the attacks, Iraqi officials announced that they would declare an official holiday in Baghdad starting Sunday and running through April 1 in an effort to limit vehicular traffic on the days surrounding the Arab League summit — the first ever to be held in the Iraqi capital. The uprising in Syria is expected to be the summit's major topic.
Officials said it was also likely that a curfew would be declared in Baghdad during the summit to further limit movement by would-be bombers.
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Tuesday's violence was surprisingly widespread, striking not just the capital, but locations to the east, west, north and south. Medical authorities predicted the death toll would rise because many of the wounded are in serious condition.
In Baghdad, the attacks included a suicide car bomb, two parked car bombs and four roadside bombs that claimed the lives of eight people and wounded 41. In a separate attack, gunmen fired on guards at a church in the Mansour district, killing three.
In Hilla, capital of Babil province, to the south of Baghdad, a parked car bomb killed five people and wounded 35. The car bomb was parked close to the juvenile affairs office in the center of the city, a location that is always crowded with people.
Twin car bombs rocked the northern entrance to the city of Karbala, to the south of Baghdad, at a checkpoint that is always crowded with Shiite Muslim pilgrims visiting the holy city. Those explosions claimed the lives of 13 people and wounded 48, both pilgrims and police.
In Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, west of Baghdad, twin car bombs targeted a police patrol carrying a senior police officer, whose identity is still undisclosed by security authorities. The explosions killed two officers and injured 18 people.
Salahuddin province, north of the capital, suffered two separate attacks. The first, twin car bombs that targeted a police patrol in the city of Samarra, wounded eight civilians. The second, a car bomb parked on the main thoroughfare in the city of Baiji, wounded three.
Kirkuk province also witnessed two attacks, a car bomb on a main street in Daquq and twin car bombs in central Kirkuk, near a police station. The two attacks claimed the lives of 19, including nine police officers, and wounded 42.
In Diyala, two separate roadside bomb explosions wounded seven people.
There was no claim of responsibility.
A security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters, told McClatchy that while the attacks had the hallmarks of al Qaida, they also could be the result of infighting among Iraqi political parties trying to undermine one another's credibility just before the summit meetings.
"It seems they (the political parties) will never stop. They will continue this war for supremacy until the very end. So until political issues are resolved at the top level, we will see no peace." he said.
Only Monday, Iraqi authorities began practicing security procedures for the summit, flooding existing checkpoints with large numbers of special forces troops and setting up new checkpoints, where they searched cars with dogs, looking for explosives.
The irony was not lost on the security official.
"All the big talk and the preparations and security plans for the summit, and the very next day coordinated attacks hit seven provinces," he said.
Mudhar al Janabi, a member of the Iraqi Parliament's security committee, suggested the bombing might also be the work of groups interested in driving a wedge between Iraq and its Sunni Muslim neighbors, who have been slow to embrace the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki and have voiced suspicions of Iraq's close relationship with Shiite-led Iran.
"There were voices within the political process that insisted on inviting Syria to the summit. Not just Syria, but Iran, too", he said. "And having failed to accomplish their goals they wish the summit to fail."
(Issa is a McClatchy special correspondent.)
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