BAGHDAD: More than a dozen apparently coordinated car bombs targeting Iraqi police and other attacks killed 52 people on Wednesday, just days before the US military officially ends its combat mission here.
The trail of bloodshed started in the capital Baghdad before stretching to the north and south of the country, hitting 10 cities and towns in quick succession in tactics that bore the hallmark of Al-Qaeda.
Some 250 people were also wounded, security officials said, as a total of 14 car bombs wrought havoc for police and soldiers whose ability to protect the country is under close scrutiny as US forces withdraw.
In the worst attack, a car bomb at a passport office in Kut, southeast of Baghdad, killed 20 people, including 15 police, and wounded 90 others, most of them police, Lieutenant Ali Hussein told AFP.
In Baghdad, a suicide car bomber blew up his vehicle at a police station in the northeastern suburb of Qahira, killing 15 people and wounding dozens more, security and medical officials said.
The attack in the mixed Sunni-Shia neighborhood took place at around 8 am (0500 GMT), according to an interior ministry official who gave the toll. "The victims include policemen and civilians," he said.
A doctor at Medical City Hospital said they had received the bodies of two women, two children and two police officers, and that 44 other people were receiving treatment.
A spike in unrest over the past two months has triggered concern that Iraqi forces are not yet ready to handle security on their own, and with no new government formed in Baghdad since a March 7 general election.
No one from the Iraqi police or army was available to comment on Wednesday’s violence.
The US Army announced on Tuesday that troop levels were below 50,000 in line with President Barack Obama’s directives as part of a "responsible drawdown" of troops, seven years on from the invasion which ousted Saddam Hussein.
The reduction has raised fears that Al-Qaeda linked insurgents will step up their attacks.
A separate car bomb in Baghdad killed two police and wounded seven civilians in the center of the city, while two other policemen were shot dead in Al-Amel, a southern district, the interior ministry official said.
In the north of the country, a car bomb in the ethnically divided, oil-rich hub of Kirkuk killed one person and wounded 11, said Colonel Adel Zain Al-Abideen, the city’s acting chief of police.
A car bomb in Mosul, meanwhile, Iraq’s second city in the far north, killed four civilians, police said.
In Muqdadiya, northeast of Baghdad, a car bomb exploded as a police patrol passed, killing three civilians. When troops arrived to investigate, a second bomb exploded, wounding six soldiers.
In western Iraq, three people, two of them police, were killed and 16 wounded in two car bombs, one of them at a police checkpoint in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, a security official said.
And in Fallujah, also in Anbar, two soldiers were killed by a suicide car bomber who targeted a checkpoint.
The police and army are often the target of attack by armed groups in Iraq.
America now has 49,700 troops in the country — less than a third of the peak figure of around 170,000 during the US military "surge" of 2007, during a brutal Shia-Sunni sectarian war that cost thousands of lives.
Washington is just five days away from formally declaring its combat mission over at the end of the month.
Tens of thousands of US soldiers have been withdrawn in recent months and the last American unit designated as a "combat brigade" left Iraq and crossed into neighboring Kuwait on August 19.
The remaining troops will be deployed on an "advice and assist" mission until all US forces leave the country at the end of 2011.
July was the bloodiest month in Iraq since May 2008, according to government officials, who said 535 people were killed. US military officials disputed the statistics.
In the southern city of Basra, 12 people, including four police, were wounded by a parked car bomb near a police station, a security official said.
And near Karbala, a holy Shia city south of Baghdad, 29 people, including policemen, were wounded by a car bomb that targeted a police station, a local security official said.