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Wave of bombings across Iraqi capital kills 49 people, injures nearly 200
BAGHDAD (AP) ' A wave of violence ripped across Baghdad on Thursday morning, killing at least 49 people and injuring nearly 200 in a coordinated attack designed to wreak havoc in the Iraqi capital just days after American forces left the country.
The blasts were the worst violence since a political crisis between Iraq's Sunni and Shiite factions erupted this weekend. The political spat, which pits Iraq's Shiite prime minister against the highest-ranking Sunni political leader, has raised fears that Iraq's sectarian wounds will be reopened during a fragile time when Iraq is finally navigating its own political future without U.S. military support.
Iraqi officials said at least 12 blasts went off early Thursday morning in nine neighborhoods around the city. The explosions ranged from blasts from sticky bombs attached to cars to roadside bombs and vehicles packed with explosives.
Most of the attacks appeared to hit Shiite neighborhoods although some Sunni areas were also targeted.
The spokesman for the Iraqi health ministry put the death toll at 49 people and said at least 167 people were also injured. He did not have a breakdown of where the dead and injured were killed.
Earlier reports indicated that the worst of the violence occurred in al-Amal neighborhood where seven people were killed in a blast that appeared to target rescuers and officials who came to the scene after a previous explosion. At least four people were killed in one western Baghdad neighborhood when two roadside bombs exploded.
All the information came from police and hospital officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
In the southwestern neighborhood of Karrada, where one of the victims was killed, sirens could be heard as ambulances rushed to the scene and a large plume of smoke rose over the explosion site.
"My baby was sleeping in her bed. Shards of glass have fallen on our heads. Her father hugged her and carried her. She is now scared in the next room," said one woman in western Baghdad who identified herself as Um Hanin. "All countries are stable. Why don't we have security and stability?"
While Baghdad and Iraq have gotten much safer over the years, explosions like Thursday's are still commonplace. They come at a precarious time in Iraq's political history, just days after American troops pulled out of Iraq.
The government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has accused the Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi of running a hit squad that targeted government officials. Al-Maliki is also pushing for a vote of no-confidence against another Sunni politician, the deputy prime minister Saleh al-Mutlaq.
Many Sunnis fear that this is part of a wider campaign to go after Sunni political figures in general and shore up Shiite control across the country at a critical time when all American troops have left Iraq.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the morning's violence. But the coordinated nature of the assault and the fact that the attacks took place in numerous neighborhoods suggested a planning capability only available to al-Qaida in Iraq.
Many of the neighborhoods were also Shiite areas which are a favorite target of al-Qaida. The Sunni extremist group often targets Shiites who they believe are not true Muslims.
Al-Qaida in Iraq is severely debilitated from its previous strength in the early years of the war, but is still able to launch coordinated and deadly assaults from time to time.
U.S. military officials have said they're worried about a resurgence of al-Qaida after the American military leaves the country. If that happens, it could lead Shiite militants to fight back and attack Sunni targets, thus sending Iraq back to the sectarian violence it experienced just a few years ago.
Associated Press writer Rebecca Santana contributed to this report.