BAGHDAD (AP) — Al-Qaida's front group in Iraq has claimed responsibility for the latest wave of bloody attacks that killed 46 people in eight cities nationwide.
A statement posted Wednesday on a militant website says the Islamic State of Iraq wanted to prove how weak the Iraqi government's security plans are ahead of next week's Arab League meeting in Baghdad.
At least 46 people were killed and more than 200 were wounded in Tuesday's shootings and bombings, which took place over six hours.
Al-Qaida says its "Sunni lions" targeted the plan of the "fool government preparing" for the summit.
The Arab leaders' meeting is the first in Iraq in a generation. Iraq's government hopes it will be a chance to prove the country is moving toward normalcy after years of war.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
BAGHDAD (AP) — Insurgents plotting to derail next week's Arab League meeting in Baghdad unleashed bloody attacks across Iraq on Tuesday, killing 46 people. The government vowed not to be scared off from hosting the summit — the first in the country in a generation and a chance to prove it is moving toward normalcy after years of war.
Bombs struck Shiite pilgrims in the holy city of Karbala, set cars on fire in Kirkuk and targeted security forces and government officials in Baghdad and surrounding cities. Iraqis out shopping or eating at restaurants on the bright, spring day fell victim to the onslaught: More than 200 people were wounded in fewer than six hours.
"Dozens of cars were on fire," said a panicked Saman Majid, who had just arrived at his job at a police station in Kirkuk, 180 miles (290 kilometers) north of Baghdad, when a car in the parking lot exploded.
Thirteen people, most of them police officers, were killed and 59 injured in that attack alone, said Brig. Gen. Sarhad Qadir.
"It was a scene from hell, where there is only a huge fire and dead people and nothing else," Majid said.
The attacks were not entirely unexpected: Government and security officials have warned for weeks that al-Qaida and Sunni sympathizers would try to thwart the League summit by sowing fear about Baghdad's stability. Plans for the capital to host the meeting last year were postponed, in part because of concerns about security.
Despite numerous roadblocks, checkpoints and other security measures ringing Baghdad, Tuesday's violence showed how easily the militants penetrated the sensitive heart of the capital. A bomb exploded near the Foreign Ministry and offices for security directors overseeing the summit. Another blew up outside the Green Zone shortly after dawn, its blast shaking windows in buildings across the Tigris River.
The Iraqi wing of al-Qaida said it was behind the bombing outside the Foreign Ministry. "Death is approaching you, when you least expect it," the Islamic state of Iraq, a local front group for al-Qaida, taunted in a statement posted Tuesday afternoon on a militant website.
The Shiite-led government staunchly stood by its $400 million plans to host the summit, which leaders have called a crucial step for Iraq to showcase its improved stability following the sectarian fighting a few years ago that almost pulled the country into civil war.
"Such cowardly acts will not deter the national government and the leadership of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the success of the Arab summit in Baghdad to receive the guests and leaders who are invited," Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said in a statement. The attack outside his headquarters killed three passers-by, he said.
"We condemn this terrorist act and those politically frustrated terrorists who did it," Zebari said.
In all, eight cities were hit Tuesday in what appeared to be coordinated attacks, mostly against Shiite pilgrims and police and government officials. They served as a gloomy reminder of the violence that has wreaked chaos across Iraq since the U.S. invasion exactly nine years ago.
Next week's Arab League summit is the first to be held in Baghdad since March 1990 — less than five months before Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. Sanctions, including a no-fly zone over Iraq, and two wars made Baghdad an impossible site for the gathering until recently.