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Spate of car bomb blasts in Iraq kills 70, injures hundreds, raising sectarian fears

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A wave of bombings and shootings across Iraq killed as many as 70 people and injured 200 others on Thursday, security officials said.

All the attacks, which hit areas across the Iraqi capital, struck between 6:00 am and 8:00 am (0300 and 0500 GMT), said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The attacks targeted different neighborhoods in Baghdad.

Iraq’s Parliament Speaker Osama al-Nujaify reacted by saying that the attacks aim at ruining the plans for holding the Arab Summit in Baghdad. The Iraqi Interior Ministry said that the attacks were probably masterminded by al-Qaeda.

One car bomb in the capital killed and wounded scores of people in the upmarket Karrada neighborhood, hurling shrapnel into the next street and blowing out glass from nearby buildings.

At least two other blasts hit Karrada, including another car bomb attack, police said. Witnesses saw at least four wrecked cars full of shrapnel and bloodied seats near a popular ice-cream shop.

In at least three Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad, nine policemen were killed, and in the capital’s northwestern Kadhimiya district, a car bomb killed a number of people when it struck a street lined with restaurants.

Another car bomb hit a police patrol in the mixed Mansour neighborhood, killing and wounding several people. Twin roadside bombs killed and wounded dozens in a mostly Shiite district of the southern Doura neighborhood, police said.

Outside Baghdad

In the biggest attack outside the capital, a car bomb killed and wounded scores in the town of Balad, north of Baghdad.

Others were killed in Salaheddin, a police colonel in the province said, while more victims were killed in Diyala, police in the province said.

Both provinces lie north of the capital. Diyala is a confessionally mixed province that has long been one of Iraq’s most restive. Salaheddin province has as its capital the city of Tikrit, hometown of former president Saddam Hussein.

Although violence is down from its peak between 2006 and 2007, law and order is fragile and attacks are common.

Hundreds have been killed in attacks since American forces completed their pullout from Iraq on December 18, according to an AFP tally.

On Sunday, a suicide car bombing killed 19 people at a Baghdad police academy.

The violence reflects ongoing sectarian tensions amid a political row in Iraq.

In January a suicide bomber killed 31 people in a Shiite funeral procession in Baghdad’s Zaafaraniya neighborhood. Days earlier a suicide bomber killed 53 in an attack on Shiite pilgrims in Basra in southern Iraq.

Al-Qaeda connection

Last month, al-Qaeda front group the Islamic State of Iraq said in a statement after claiming responsibility for attacks on Shiite pilgrims, that it will not cease its operations “as long as the Safavid government continues its war.”

“We will spill rivers of their blood as reciprocity,” it added.

Meanwhile, Iraqi security forces on Wednesday arrested the head of Ansar al-Sunna, a Sunni insurgent group said to be linked to al-Qaeda, the counter-terrorism chief for Anbar province said.

“Iraqi forces today arrested the leader of Ansar al-Sunna, Walid Khaled Ali, as he tried to illegally infiltrate into Iraqi territory from Syria,” Brigadier General Khaled al-Dulaimi told AFP.

He “was one of the most prominent suspects for terrorism cases,” Dulaimi said, adding that “he killed many of the sons of Anbar and fled to Syria after the announcement of the tribal fight against al-Qaeda in 2007.”

Sunni tribesmen joined forces with the U.S. military against al-Qaeda from late 2006, helping to turn the tide of the insurgency.

Ansar al-Sunna is an ultra-conservative Sunni Salafist group that has claimed several attacks against U.S. and Iraqi security forces. It is an offshoot of the Kurdish group Ansar al-Islam.

Dulaimi said the group is part of the Islamic State of Iraq, Qaeda’s front organization here.

Iraq’s interior ministry meanwhile said on Monday its forces had fended off “smugglers and infiltrators” trying to cross the border from Syria.

“Border guards were able to fend off groups of smugglers and infiltrators who were trying to cross the border from Syria into Iraq,” a statement on the ministry’s website said, without specifying when this occurred.

The Iraqi premier’s office said on Saturday that Iraq is taking measures to secure its border with Syria against weapons smuggling and the unauthorized movement of people.

U.S. spy chief James Clapper said last week that Qaeda’s branch in Iraq was probably behind recent suicide bombings in Damascus and Aleppo, Syria’s second city.

His comments confirmed earlier reports that U.S. officials suspected the terror network’s hand in the bombings, and supported repeated claims by Damascus about Qaeda’s involvement in the uprising 11-month uprising.