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Surging Iraq violence: Have we seen this story before?

Violence across Iraq yesterday was horrific, and likely carried out by Sunni Arab militants. It all feels so 2004.

By Staff writer / August 16, 2011

Policemen and residents gather at the site of a bomb attack in Najaf, 100 miles south of Baghdad, on Aug. 15.

Ali Abu Shish/Reuters

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The death toll in Iraq yesterday, with at least 70 murdered in attacks across the country, was bad enough. But the scope of the killing carries worrying echoes of the way sectarian warfare ramped up across Iraq starting in late 2003, leading to the country's civil war.

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There seems little doubt that most of the attacks were carried out by Sunni Arab militants opposed to the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite Islamist, given the nature of the attacks and the types of targets: Security officials supporting his writ, civilians in largely Shiite towns in the south, and Sunni Arabs who had joined hands with the government.

The sheer scale of the activity yesterday makes it hard to dismiss events as the work of a handful of terrorists. Car bombs at a market in the southern city of Kut killed about 40. A suicide attack killed three policemen at the government counterterrorism center in Tikrit, the hometown of executed former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Four Iraqi soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb in the Sunni town of Baquba, north of Baghdad. Separate car bombs in Baquba and nearby Khan Bani Saad killed eight.

In the Shiite holy city of Najaf, a suicide car bomb attacked the police headquarters, seeking to open the way for other militants. Seven people were murdered in that attack. There were multiple attacks in the ethnically and religiously mixed city of Kirkuk, with extensive damage done to a Syriac Orthodox Christian church there.

The Minister of Higher Education's convoy was attacked in Baghdad's wealthy diplomatic neighborhood of Mansour. Capping the day's violence off was an attack in Youssifiyah. The Associated Press reports that a group of men in military uniforms entered a mosque there during evening prayers yesterday, dragged out seven men and then murdered them. According to the report, the victims were all members of a militia that had fought with the Sunni insurgency in Iraq, but who had switched sides during the US troop surge into the country. The AP writes that witnesses heard the murderers declaring themselves members of the Islamic State of Iraq, hard-line Islamists who espouse similar goals to Al Qaeda.

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