BAGHDAD // An onslaught of bombings and shootings has killed 93 people across Iraq today, officials said, in the nation’s deadliest day this year.
The attacks come days after the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq declared a new offensive and warned in a statement that the militant group is reorganising in areas from which it retreated before US troops left the country last December.
Al Qaeda has been seeking to reassert its might in the security vacuum left by the US, seizing on Baghdad’s fragmented government and the surge of Sunni rebels in neighbouring Syria to sow instability across Iraq.
US and Iraqi officials insist that the terror network’s Iraqi wing, known as the Islamic State of Iraq, is nowhere as strong as it was when the nation threatened to fall into civil war between 2006 and 2008, and the Iraqi government is better established.
Still, the death toll today and an almost-daily drumbeat of killings last month show Al Qaeda remains fully capable of creating chaos in the foreseeable future.
Today’s violence in 13 Iraqi cities and towns appeared coordinated: The blasts all took place within a few hours of each other. They struck mostly at security forces and government offices.
“It was a thunderous explosion,” said Mohammed Munim, 35, who was working at a ministry of interior office that issues government ID cards to residents in Baghdad’s Shiite Sadr City neighbourhood when a car exploded outside. Sixteen people were killed in the single attack.
“The only thing I remember was the smoke and fire, which was everywhere, said Mr Munim from his bed in the emergency room at Sadr City hospital. He was hit by shrapnel in his neck and back.
The worst attack happened in the town of Taji, about 20 kilometres north of Baghdad. Police said bombs planted around five houses in the town exploded an hour after dawn, followed by a suicide bomber who detonated his explosives belt in the crowd of police who rushed to help. In all, 41 people were killed, police said.
And in a brazen attack on Iraq’s military, three carloads of gunmen pulled up at an army base near Udaim, in north-east Iraq, and started firing at forces. Thirteen soldiers were killed, and the gunmen escaped before they could be caught, two senior police officials said.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to release the information.
The overall toll made today the deadliest day in Iraq since US troops left in mid-December topping the January 5 attacks, when a wave of bombings targeting Shiites killed 78 people in Baghdad and outside the southern city of Nasiriyah.
Last weekend, the leader of Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq warned that the militant network is returning to strongholds from which it was driven from while the American military was here.
“The majority of the Sunnis in Iraq support Al Qaeda and are waiting for its return,” Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, head of the Islamic State of Iraq since 2010, said in the statement that was posted on a militant website.