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Wave of attacks in Iraq ends weeks of calm (+video)

A political crisis in early 2012 had Iraq on edge, but mediation efforts brought calm for several weeks. The reprieve ended today with at least 14 separate attacks throughout the country.

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    Iraqi firefighters try to extinguish a burning bus at the scene of a car bomb explosion in Karradah in downtown Baghdad, Iraq, Feb. 23. A swift series of bombings and shootings killed dozens of people across the Iraqi capital early Thursday in attacks that mostly appeared to target police, officials said.
    Hadi Mizban/AP
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A wave of bombings across Iraq today killed more than 50 people and wounded more than 200. Although not the deadliest day in the country since US troops completed their withdrawal, this morning’s attacks are the most far-reaching so far, according to the Washington Post.

The attacks, carried out with car bombs and small arms, targeted Iraqi security forces in Baghdad and elsewhere in the country – a hallmark of Al Qaeda in Iraq, the Associated Press reports.

Al Qaeda in Iraq, as well as other Sunni insurgent groups, are “bent on destabilizing” the country and have launched attacks, mostly in Baghdad, every couple weeks since the US withdrawal. A senior Iraqi intelligence official told the AP that he predicted today’s attacks were meant to scare diplomats who plan on attending the Arab League summit scheduled to be held in Baghdad in late March. Last year’s summit, also planned for Baghdad, was canceled for that reason.

There were at least 14 separate attacks today, according to AP. Several of them targeted police checkpoints and patrols, and one of them targeted a police station. The deadliest hit, carried out by a car bomb in downtown Baghdad’s shopping district, killed nine and wounded 26, sending shockwaves several blocks. The police have been targeted frequently. Twenty were killed earlier this week by a suicide bomber who detonated outside the Baghdad police academy.

The Washington Post reports that today’s attacks were preceded by weeks of calm, which many Iraqis attribute to Sunni insurgents crossing the border into Syria to join the revolt against President Bashar al Assad.

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McClatchy reported earlier this week that violence has declined sharply – in some areas it is down as much as 50 percent from autumn 2011 levels – particularly in the region along the Syrian border. The Obama administration said last week that it believes Al Qaeda is behind some of the most “spectacular” attacks against the Assad regime.

Concerns about another sectarian conflict were high earlier in the year, when Shiite Prime Minister Nour al Maliki tried to arrest the Sunni vice president, alleging that he ordered death squads targeting security forces. A bloc of Sunni lawmakers boycotted the parliament and Baghdad was rocked by a series of bombings. 

Reuters reports that Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish lawmakers have spent the last several weeks trying to negotiate an end to the political crisis, but their work was disrupted last week when a panel of judges released details of 150 attacks that they say were carried out by death squads under Vice President Tareq al Hashemi’s command.

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