- Associated Press - Thursday, February 23, 2012

BAGHDAD A rapid series of attacks spread over a wide swath of Iraq killed at least 55 people Thursday, targeting mostly security forces in what Iraqi officials called “frantic attempts” by insurgents to show civilians that their country is doomed to violence for years to come.

The apparently coordinated bombings and shootings unfolded over hours in the capital, Baghdad - where most of the deaths occurred - and 11 other cities.

They struck government offices, restaurants and one in the town of Musayyib hit close to a primary school. At least 225 people were wounded.

If the insurgents’ goal was to show Iraqis how precarious their situation is, it appeared to be working.

“What is happening today are not simple security violations. It is a huge security failure and disaster,” said Ahmed al-Tamimi, who was working at an Education Ministry office a block away from a restaurant that was bombed in the Shiite neighborhood of Kazimiyah in northern Baghdad.

It was the latest of a series of large-scale attacks that insurgents have launched every few weeks since the last U.S. troops left Iraq in mid-December at the end of a nearly nine-year war.

The Interior Ministry blamed al Qaeda for the violence.

“These attacks are part of frantic attempts by the terrorist groups to show that the security situation in Iraq will not ever be stable,” the ministry said.

“These attacks are part of al Qaeda efforts to deliver a message to its supporters that al Qaeda is still operating inside Iraq, and it has the ability to launch strikes inside the capital or other cities and towns.”

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the latest attacks, but targeting security officials is a hallmark of al Qaeda.

The ongoing nature of the violence and the fact that insurgents are able to launch a variety of attacks over a wide territory in Iraq shows the country is still deeply unstable, despite government assurances it could protect itself when U.S. troops left in December.

The violence points to a dangerous gap in the abilities of the Iraqi security to gather intelligence on insurgent groups and stop them before they launch deadly attacks.

Shortly after the U.S. withdrawal, a major political crisis with sectarian undertones erupted as well when Shiite-dominated authorities sought to arrest Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi on allegations he commandeered death squads targeting security forces and government officials.

The fear has been that these renewed sectarian tensions may push Iraq back to the violence it saw during the height of the insurgency in 2006 and 2007.

A senior Iraqi defense intelligence official said Thursday’s attacks appeared to have been planned for at least one month. He predicted they aimed to frighten diplomats from attending the Arab League’s annual summit that is scheduled to be held in Baghdad in late March.

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