BAGHDAD — More than a month of relative calm in Iraq was broken Thursday by a series of apparently coordinated attacks that killed at least 33 people and wounded at least 266.
The attacks, which included suicide bombings, explosives hidden in parked cars and fire from small arms, struck in at least 19 places in six provinces, security officials said.
The violence came the day after Iraqi officials announced that they’d arrested the commander of Ansar al-Sunna, a Sunni Muslim extremist group affiliated with al-Qaida, as he was attempting to cross into Iraq from Syria.
An Iraqi intelligence officer said that Waleed Khalid Ali, the leader of Ansar al-Sunna, was carrying a list of names that Iraqi officials believe were senior security officers targeted for assassination.
“He was on foot and he was carrying documents and a list of names with him that are thought to be names of high-ranking security officers that were marked for assassination,” the intelligence officer told McClatchy Newspapers on the condition of anonymity because he isn’t authorized to disclose information to reporters.
There was no evidence to tie Ali’s arrest to Thursday’s string of attacks, but security officials blamed them on al-Qaida-affiliated groups.
“This is a message from the terrorist organization al-Qaida to its supporters, saying that they are still active in Iraq, and have the ability to carry out hits in the capital and in the provinces,” the Interior Ministry said in a statement. “The message comes after a period in which al-Qaida operations have dwindled and failed in many instances.”
Iraqi security officials told McClatchy earlier this week that violence had dropped throughout the country since last fall after al-Qaida-affiliated fighters left to join the battle against Syrian President Bashar Assad, a migration that U.S. officials first recognized publically earlier this month.
Thursday’s violence, however, was a reminder that Iraq remains racked by internal divisions that can easily give way to chaos.
At least 20 people died and 80 were wounded in attacks in Baghdad, where residents were awakened around dawn by the sound of explosions.
The attacks, which struck both Sunni and Shiite Muslim neighborhoods, targeted police patrols, civilians on the streets and restaurants during rush hour, when day laborers gather to eat breakfast and await work. The attacks included two car bombs in the Karrada district in central Baghdad, one in the Mansour district in western Baghdad and one in the Khadamiya district in northwest Baghd ad, as well as six roadside bombs and two incidents in which insurgents attacked police with small arms fire.