Bombings and shootings killed more than 30 people across Iraq yesterday, including high school students on their way to final exams, part of a new round of violence ahead of next week's deadline for US troops to withdraw from urban areas.
The attacks pushed the three-day Iraqi death toll over 100, shattering a recent lull and adding fresh doubt to the ability of government forces to protect people without US soldiers by their sides. American combat troops have already begun moving from inner-city outposts to large bases outside Baghdad and other cities.
Overall levels of violence remain low, but Iraqi officials have warned that militants will likely carry out more attacks to erode public confidence in the government as the Americans pull out of cities by June 30 — the first step toward a full withdrawal from the country by the end of 2011.
Many Iraqis support the withdrawal timeline, outlined in a security pact that took effect this year. But others fear militants will regroup without the visible presence of U.S. soldiers.
"There aren't enough Iraqi army and police and they're ill-equipped to confront the terrorists," said Abdul-Salam Mohammed, a 33-year-old car dealer in the former insurgent stronghold of Baqouba, north of Baghdad. "The pullout is not in our interest at this moment because we are still in the recovery phase and not yet cured."
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki acknowledged over the weekend that more violence was likely but insisted Iraqi forces were ready and called on Iraqis to remain steadfast in their support.
Yesterday's violence mainly struck Shiite neighborhoods in the Baghdad area, starting with a roadside bombing of a minibus carrying high school students from Sadr City to their final exams.
Police said the attack killed at least three students and wounded 13 people. The US military said only one civilian was killed and eight wounded. Conflicting casualty tolls are common following bombings in Iraq because victims are often taken to multiple hospitals.
The bus was pockmarked with shrapnel, with blood-soaked notebooks and ID cards left on the seats and the floor.
A bomb planted under a car also exploded on a road leading to a checkpoint that controls access to a bridge into Baghdad's central Green Zone, killing at least five people and wounding 20, according to police and hospital officials.
The US military put the casualty toll at two killed and six wounded.
A roadside bomb later targeted a police patrol in another mainly Shiite district in eastern Baghdad, killing three people and wounding 25, police said, although the US military said just two were killed.
Hours later, a parked motorcycle loaded with explosives blew up in an open-air public market in an impoverished, predominantly Shiite area northeast of Baghdad, killing five people and wounding 22, police and hospital officials said.
A suicide car bomber also targeted the mayor's offices in Abu Ghraib, a predominantly Sunni district west of Baghdad, killing seven civilians, police said.
North of the capital and close to the Iranian border, a roadside bomb struck an Iraqi army patrol, killing three Iraqi soldiers near Khanaqin, according to the security headquarters in Diyala province.
Gunmen also killed at least seven people in separate attacks in the northern city of Mosul, including a woman and four Iraqi security forces, according to separate police reports.
The Iraqi officials all spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to release the information.
The violence came two days after the year's deadliest attack — a truck bombing that killed at least 75 people in a mainly Shiite Turkomen near the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk.
US commanders have acknowledged that car bombings and suicide attacks are hard to stop, but they note that retaliatory violence has not led to anything approaching the levels of sectarian bloodshed that brought Iraq to the brink of civil war in 2006.
The Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr — whose loyalists fought fierce battles with the Americans before they were routed by a US-Iraqi crackdown and agreed to a cease-fire — called on the government to protect Iraqis better.
But in a statement, the anti-American cleric blamed the violence on the continued presence of U.S. troops in the country and demanded a faster withdrawal. He also called on Iraqis to remain peaceful.
"The Iraqi people are heading toward a new phase that might lift them out from their suffering," the cleric said.Reuse content