BAGHDAD — Bomb blasts ripped through more than a dozen Iraqi cities Monday in apparently coordinated attacks that killed at least 60 security forces and civilians.
It was in the worst attack this year, and one that highlighted al-Qaida's resolve and ability to wreak havoc. There have been at least 23 separate bomb blasts since late Sunday night.
The bloodbath comes less than two weeks after Iraqi officials said they would be open to a small number of U.S. forces staying in the country past a Dec. 31 withdrawal deadline.
Nineteen of the bomb blasts were coordinated to go off Monday morning and included parked car bombs, roadside bombs, a suicide bomber driving a vehicle that rammed into a police station and even bombs attached to lightpoles.
The scope of the violence — seven explosions went off in different towns in Diyala province alone — emphasized that insurgents are still able to carry out attacks despite repeated crackdowns by Iraqi and U.S. forces.
"These attacks ... are trying to influence the security situation and undermine confidence in the security forces," Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, a spokesman for Baghdad security operations, told Reuters. He blamed al-Qaida-linked groups.Video: What’s it like? 9 days as a tourist in Iraq
Iraqis were furious at security officials and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
"Where is the government with all these explosions across the country? Where is al-Maliki? Why doesn't he come to see?" said Ali Jumaa Ziad, a shop-owner in Kut, where the worst of the violence occurred. Ziad was brushing pieces of human flesh from the floor and off equipment in his shop.
Twin explosions rocked the market in Kut, 100 miles southeast of Baghdad, where Ziad works.
Police spokesman Lt. Col. Dhurgam Mohammed Hassan said the first bomb went off in a freezer used to keep drinks cold. As rescuers and onlookers gathered, a parked car bomb exploded; 37 people were killed and 68 injured, police and health officials said.
Police sealed off the area where flesh was scattered on the ground and bloodstained walls were punctured by shrapnel.
U.S. troops leaving?
Earlier this month, Iraqi political leaders announced they would begin negotiations with the United States to determine whether to keep a small number of American forces in the country beyond the end of the calendar year.
All U.S. troops must leave by the end of 2011, but both Iraqi and U.S. officials have expressed concern about the ability of Iraqi forces to protect the country.
Theodore Karasik, a Middle East security expert at the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analyst, said al-Qaida in Iraq is trying to disrupt the internal Iraqi political process and send a message to the Americans.
"It seems that al-Qaida in Iraq is playing a propaganda game at the same time it's trying to show that it can still carry out deadly violence," Karasik said.
"If the U.S. extends its military presence, al-Qaida 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," he added.Video: The Road Back, Part 1 (on this page)
In Diyala province, seven bombs went off in the capital of Baquba and towns nearby, said Faris al-Azawi, the province's health spokesman. Five soldiers were killed in Baquba while five people were killed in other attacks around the province.
Just outside the holy city of Najaf, a suicide car bomber plowed his vehicle into a checkpoint outside a police building, said Luay al-Yassiri, head of the Najaf province security committee.
Police opened fire when the driver refused to stop, and then the vehicle exploded. Al-Yassiri said four people were killed and 32 injured. Firefighters sprayed water on burning cars while a body covered with a red sheet was loaded into a police vehicle.
"There was a roll call for the police in the early morning. The first killed and wounded policemen and as the ambulances came the second car exploded," Mussab Mohammad, a local resident who witnessed the attacks, told Reuters.
Outside the nearby city of Karbala, a parked car bomb near a police station killed three policemen and injured 14 others, according to two police officers.
Embarrassing security breach
In the northern city of Tikrit, two men wearing explosives belts drove into a heavily guarded government compound wearing military uniforms, which helped them avoid notice, said Mohammed al-Asi, the provincial spokesman.
The men parked their vehicle and walked to a building where the anti-terrorism police work. When the men approached the building, the guards ordered them to stop and opened fire. One bomber was killed but the other got inside, blew himself up and killed three people, al-Asi said.
It was another embarrassing security breach for security officials at the compound. Earlier this year, insurgents penetrated the compound's security and attacked a mosque where prominent officials were praying.
In the northern city of Kirkuk, a car bomb exploded next to a police patrol, injuring four police officers. About 30 minutes later, a motorcycle with a bomb planted inside it exploded, killing one person.
Late Sunday, four bombs also blew up near a Syrian Orthodox Church in Kirkuk. No one was injured in the attack which damaged the church walls.
In Baghdad, a parked car bomb exploded near a convoy carrying officials from the Ministry of Higher Education, police and health officials said. Eight people were wounded, the officials said. The minister was not in the convoy.
According to police and hospital officials around the country, other attacks included:
— A parked car bomb targeting a police patrol in Iskandiriyah killed two people.
— One person was killed when bombs strapped to lightpoles in the northern city of Mosul exploded.
— A parked car bomb exploded near an Iraqi military patrol in Taji north of Baghdad, killing one person.
— Sixteen people were injured in the city of Balad when a roadside bomb went off near a fuel truck.
All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Al-Maliki's spokesman and the military spokesman did not answer telephone calls.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.