Wave of violence across Iraq as Baghdad gets ready for summit

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bombings and shootings tore through eight Iraqi cities yesterday targeting police and Shiite pilgrims and killing 46 people.

The deadly wave undermined the government’s hopes for stability before next week’s meeting of the Arab world’s top leaders.

The Iraqi wing of al-Qaida said it was behind at least one of the attacks near Baghdad’s heavily guarded Green Zone. A website statement said the group targeted the office that will oversee security for the Arab League summit – the first time it is to be held in Baghdad for more than a generation.

Authorities have feared al-Qaida or its Sunni sympathisers would try to strike at this year’s Arab League summit. Plans for Baghdad to host the meeting last year were postponed, in part because of concerns about Iraq’s security.

In all, eight cities were hit in what appeared to be coordinated attacks against police and government officials. More than 200 people were wounded.

One of the deadliest strikes came in the Shiite holy city of Karbala, where two car bombs exploded in a crowded shopping and restaurant area. Thirteen people were killed and another 50 were wounded.

Five Iranian pilgrims were among the dead. Karbala, 50 miles south of Baghdad, is a destination for thousands of Shiite pilgrims from around the world who visit the golden shrines of two revered imams each day.

The wave of violence began after dawn yesterday.

Militants blew up the house of a police official in the western city of Fallujah, planted bombs near the fortified Green Zone and shot up a security checkpoint in Baghdad, set off an explosion at a police station in the northern city of Kirkuk and attacked restaurants and shopping areas in two southern towns.

Thirteen people, most of them policemen, were killed in Kirkuk and another 59 wounded.

Officials have been braced for attacks in the run-up to the Arab League summit during which the Shiite-led government hopes to show off Iraq’s improved security and stability since sectarian fighting a few years ago almost pulled the country into civil war.

Insurgents are seeking to belie Baghdad’s better image, and officials expect more attacks as hundreds of dignitaries and journalists converge on the capital next week.

Two of the yesterday’s attacks struck outside the Green Zone where the summit will be held.

Last week, the government said Iraq would deploy an unprecedented number of security forces to protect the capital for the summit.

An estimated 26,000 police and soldiers are expected to be deployed in Baghdad.