Image: Woman conforts son injured in Baghdad bombing
Hadi Mizban  /  AP
A woman comforts her son in a hospital after he was injured in a bombing in Baghdad on Wednesday.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 8/25/2010 7:27:53 PM ET 2010-08-25T23:27:53

A day after the U.S. declared the number of American troops in Iraq had fallen to their lowest level since the war began in 2003, insurgents on Wednesday launched more than two dozen attacks across the country, killing at least56 Iraqis.

The coordinated assaults rekindled memories of the days when insurgents ruled the streets. Powerful blasts targeting security forces struck where they are supposed to be the safest, turning police stations into rubble and bringing down concrete walls erected to protect them from insurgents.

"Where is the protection, where are the security troops?" said Abu Mohammed, an eyewitness to a car bombing near Baghdad's Adan Square that killed two passers-by. "What is going on in the country?"

The attacks made August the deadliest month for Iraqi policemen and soldiers in two years, and came a day after the Obama admnistration said the number of U.S. troops in the country had fallen to fewer than 50,000.

The White House announced that President Barack Obama will address the nation from the Oval Office and visit troops at Fort Bliss, Texas, on Tuesday to mark the end of U.S. combat operations in Iraq.

The speech will mark only the second address Obama has made from the Oval Office. He first spoke from the presidential office on June 15 to address the nation about the Gulf oil spill.

Obama promised in 2009 to end the formal combat mission by Aug. 31.

Iraq is scheduled to assume security for its own territory after Tuesday, with the U.S. falling into an advisory and backup role.

Iraq's foreign minister said insurgents are attempting to sow as much chaos as possible, as lawmakers struggle to form a new government and Americans withdraw troops.

"Here you have a government paralysis, you have a political vacuum ... you have the U.S. troop withdrawal," Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said. "And, in such environment, these terrorist networks flourish."

But like most attacks here, they are met with outrage on the streets and condemnation from government officials. Authorities, however, are virtually powerless in the face of the insurgents' threat.

At least 265 security personnel — Iraqi military, police and police recruits, and bodyguards — have been killed from June through August, compared to 180 killed in the previous five months, according to an Associated Press count.

In August, nearly 5 Iraqi security personnel on average have been killed every day so far.

These numbers are considered a minimum, based on AP reporting. The actual number is likely higher, as many killings go unreported or uncounted.

That rise in deaths coincided with the drawdown of U.S. troops. American officials said on Tuesday that the number of troops fell below 50,000 — a step toward a full withdrawal by the end of 2011.

The scale and reach of Wednesday's attacks in 14 cities and towns underscored insurgent efforts to prove their might against security forces and political leaders charged with running and keeping stability in Iraq.

"The insurgents hope to regain the initiative once the Americans are gone," said John Pike, the director of the military information website GlobalSecurity.org.

"The longer there's a stalemate between the Shiite and Sunni politicians," Pike said, "the greater the opportunity for the extremists to translate political violence into political influence."

The deadliest attack came in Kut, 100 miles southeast of Baghdad, where a suicide bomber blew up a car inside a security barrier between a police station and the provincial government's headquarters.

Police and hospital officials said 19 people died, 15 of them policemen. An estimated 90 people were wounded.

In northern Baghdad, a suicide bomber detonated a car bomb in a parking lot behind a police station, killing 15 people, including six policemen.

Police and hospital officials said another 58 were wounded in the explosion that left a crater three yards wide and trapped people beneath the rubble of felled houses nearby.

A police officer was also killed in Mosul where gunmen attacked a police checkpoint and one person was killed in the city of Beiji, in Iraq's northern province of Salahuddin.

Iraqi police and soldiers have always been prime targets for insurgents trying to destabilize the country and intimidate new recruits from joining the security services.

Since Iraq's March 7 elections failed to produce a clear winner, U.S. officials have feared that competing political factions could stir up widespread violence.

Iraqi leaders have failed to end the political impasse.

Iraqi and U.S. officials alike acknowledge growing frustration throughout the nation nearly six months after the vote and say that politically motivated violence could undo security gains made over the past few years.

Nobody immediately claimed responsibility for the blasts but they bore the hallmark of al-Qaida in Iraq, which is known to use car bombs and suicide attackers.

For ordinary Iraqis and policemen on the front line, the blasts brought back memories of the dark days of 2006 and 2007 when insurgents, not Iraqi police or soldiers, reigned.

"These attacks are taking us back to when the terrorists had the ability to launch many attacks in different areas," said Taha Ahmed al-Ajili, a 34-year-old policeman in Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown just north of Baghdad.

In Tikrit, a roadside bomb killed a policeman on patrol and wounded another.

Al-Ajili said he feared people would blame what he described as poorly armed policemen and soldiers for the lack of security. He said the security forces are doing their best.

Five others, including an Iraqi soldier and a police officer, were killed in small bursts of violence in Baghdad.

From the northern Iraqi city of Mosul to the holy Shiite shrine town of Karbala to the oil city of Basra, scattered bombings and shootings killed an additional 14 people — including 6 security forces — and injured scores more.

A senior Iraqi intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to talk to the media, raised the possibility that some of the attackers had inside help.

___

Associated Press Writers Qassim Abdul-Zahra, Lara Jakes and Rebecca Santana in Baghdad and AP researcher Brooke Lansdale in New York contributed to this report.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Video: Coordinated attacks kill dozens in Iraq

  1. Transcript of: Coordinated attacks kill dozens in Iraq

    WILLIAMS: Good evening.

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: It was just last week we saw those historic images of the last US combat troops leaving Iraq ; but as we warned that night on the air, this would not be the end of bloodshed in that country, nothing close. Well, today, a devastating wave of attacks across Iraq designed to show the insurance -- the insurgents, rather, can still attack when and where they want, and to show how vulnerable Iraq is during this time of transition. We last saw our chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel reporting that night from a moving US Army convoy, part of the last out of there. And tonight he is here with us in New York . Richard , what does today mean?

    RICHARD ENGEL reporting: This is a very serious day for Iraq . This is exactly what many people in that country feared would happen, that as US troops pull back, attacks rise. Today there were more than two dozen attacks in 14 different locations, more than 50 people killed. It was a two-hour assault on the nation of Iraq , coordinated bombings in more than a dozen cities and towns, starting at 8:20 AM in Baghdad , rush hour. The explosions quickly spread nationwide like a blast from a shotgun, from Kirkuk and Tikrit in the north to the Sunni Muslim heartland in Ramadi and Fallujah , and into the Shiite cities of Karbala and Basrah . The likely suspect? Al-Qaeda in Iraq . The targets were mostly Iraqi police and soldiers. Al-Qaeda claims they're infidel American creations. Why now? It's all about timing. There's a political vacuum, with no government in Baghdad nearly six months after elections. There's anger on the streets because Iraqi politicians have utterly failed to provide basic services. And now there's an American pullout.

    Unidentified Soldier #1: Made it!

    ENGEL: Last week we watched the last American combat brigade, the 4-2 Strykers , leave Iraq for Kuwait . Three hundred of the 4-2 Strykers returned to Fort Lewis in Washington today...

    Unidentified Soldier #2: Dismissed!

    ENGEL: ...reunited with their families.

    Unidentified Soldier #3: Awesome.

    Unidentified Woman: It's been too long.

    ENGEL: First kisses after a year deployment. Among those home today, the 4-2 Stryker Brigade Commander Colonel John Norris .

    Colonel JOHN NORRIS: We put an end to seven years of Operation Iraqi Freedom . So I like to think that the soldiers, when we came out of Iraq , we brought honor to all of those soldiers that gone before us for the last seven years, knowing that we've officially put a transition to the Iraqi security forces for a sovereign nation of Iraq .

    ENGEL: Fifty thousand American troops remain in Iraq as trainers and advisers. They're armed and can fight, but that's not supposed to be their mission. They're supposed to help Iraqis fight. With the withdrawal of American combat troops, Brian , Iraq is entering a new phase. Today, al-Qaeda in Iraq said -- made it clear what it wants that phase to look like.

    WILLIAMS: Yeah, like day one of that new phase. Richard Engel , back here with us in New York after incredible work covering the last combat troops out. Richard , good to have you. Thanks.

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