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The local wing of al Qaeda, known as the Islamic State of Iraq, has long been at odds with al Qaeda’s central leadership. The global network’s current leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, has in the past criticized Iraq’s movement for targeting civilians. But earlier this year, al-Zawahri softened his stance, and included ISI militants in a network plea for fighters to join the Syrian uprising.

Previous al Qaeda offensives have failed to push the country into civil war, largely because Shiite militias in recent years have refused to be lured into the kind of tit-for-tat killings that marked Iraq’s descent six years ago. Additionally, for all its weaknesses, the Iraqi government now holds more authority than it did during those dark years, and, by and large, citizens have no desire to return down that path.

Still, the militant group appears to be banking on Iraq’s fragility in its campaign to throw it into permanent chaos. Sectarian tensions have risen due to a political crisis stemming from terror charges the Shiite-led government has filed against one of the country’s vice presidents, who is one of Iraq’s top Sunni officials. He says they are politically inspired.

Mohammed Munim, 35, was working at an Interior Ministry office that issues government ID cards to residents in Baghdad’s Shiite Sadr City neighborhood when a car exploded outside, killing 16 people.

“It was a thunderous explosion,” Munim said from his bed in the emergency room at Sadr City hospital. He was hit by shrapnel in his neck and back. “The only thing I remember was the smoke and fire, which was everywhere.”

Most of the cities and towns pounded by bombs Monday are located in Sunni-dominated areas that nonetheless include sizable pockets of ethnically- and religiously-mixed populations.

In the Baghdad suburb of Hussainiya, a car exploded near a construction site, killing two, police said. Farther north, bombs planted in five towns around Kirkuk and in the oil-rich city itself, killed nine people, officials said. And at least four attacks in the northern city of Mosul — a former al-Qaida stronghold — left 10 people dead from bombings and shootings, police said. All of the casualties were confirmed by police and health officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.

In northeastern Diyala province, police spokesman Maj. Ghalib al-Karkhi said exploding cars, roadside bombs and a drive-by shooting at a security checkpoint killed 11.

Only one of Monday’s attacks occurred in undisputed Shiite territory: a bomb in the southern town of Diwaniyah that police said killed three people and wounded 25.


Associated Press Writer Lara Jakes in Baghdad and Yahya Barzanji in Sulaimaniyah, Iraq, contributed to this report.