Al-Qa'ida kills 66 in bomb blitz across Iraq
TERRORISTS launched co-ordinated bomb attacks on 14 cities in Iraq yesterday.
At least 66 people were killed and more than 240 wounded in the 17 bombings, which were blamed on al-Qa'ida.
It was the country's bloodiest day of the year, underlining the fragility of security less than five months before American troops are scheduled to complete their withdrawal.
Iraqi security officials said al-Qa'ida affiliates were trying to destabilise the government of Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, although there was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks.
The scale of the violence demonstrated insurgents' continued ability to strike, despite a series of security crackdowns.
Iraqi and American officials have questioned the ability of the Maliki government and security apparatus to deal with the insurgency after US troops leave.
Two weeks ago, Iraqi leaders agreed to open talks with Washington over retaining a military training mission beyond the year-end withdrawal deadline.
Major General Qassim al-Moussawi, a spokesman for security operations in Baghdad -- which was hit by three separate bombings -- blamed groups linked to al-Qa'ida.
"These attacks . . . are trying to influence the security situation and undermine confidence in the security forces," he said.
The worst carnage was in the southern city of Kut, more than 100 kilometres south-east of the capital, where two bombs in quick succession struck a market area at 8am, killing 40 and wounding more than 65.
The first was in a fridge holding cold drinks, a local police official said. When rescuers and onlookers crowded around in the aftermath, a car bomb was detonated.
The deaths provoked accusations of incompetence against Mr Malaki and his security forces. Ali Jumaa Ziad, a shopkeeper close to the scene, said: "Where is the government with all these explosions across the country? Where is Maliki? Why doesn't he come to see?"
Theodore Karasik, a Middle East security expert at the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, suggested al-Qa'ida in Iraq was trying to disrupt the government and send a message to the Americans.
"It seems that al-Qa'ida in Iraq is playing a propaganda game. At the same time it's trying to show that it can still carry out deadly violence," he said.
"If the US extends its military presence, al-Qa'ida in Iraq can use it as a tool by saying, 'Look, the Americans have reversed their decision to leave and are staying on as occupiers'. They could use this as a justification for more attacks."
All American forces are scheduled to leave Iraq by the end of this year, in line with a 2008 security deal agreed by Baghdad and Washington.
The US has offered to keep as many as 10,000 troops in Iraq to help train the country's security forces, but such a deal would be difficult to accept for many Iraqis tired of eight years of American presence. (© Daily Telegraph, London)