BAGHDAD — A string of suicide bombings across Iraq Wednesday targeted local security forces amid growing fears among many Iraqis that the U.S. is withdrawing combat troops too soon. At least 43 civilians were killed and more than 190 wounded.
In one of the deadliest attacks, a suicide car bomb detonated outside a police station near the provincial headquarters in Kut, about 100 miles south of Baghdad. Initial reports had at least 20 people killed and 85 wounded, according to police officials.
In Baghdad, a suicide truck bomb detonated in the parking lot of a police station in the northeastern Qahira neighborhood, killing at least 15 people and wounding 34. A separate car bomb killed two police and wounded seven civilians in the city center while two other policemen were shot dead in the Al Amal neighborhood in south Baghdad.
No group has yet taken responsibility, but Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki's office blamed the attacks on Al Qaeda and Baathists. The statement said the bombings would not derail the 'historic national achievement' of the troop withdrawal in line with Iraq achieving full national sovereignty.
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The U.S. military announced on Tuesday there were fewer than 50,000 troops left in Iraq following the departure of the last U.S. combat brigade last week. The withdrawal is part of President Obama's pledge to shift the Iraq effort from a combat to training and assistance mission on Sept. 1.
The U.S. has not conducted unilateral combat operations since an Iraq-U.S. security agreement took effect in June of last year, and is currently scheduled to withdraw all troops from the country by the end of 2011.
The White House on Tuesday characterized the drawdown to 50,000 troops as a "remarkable achievement" for the United States. But an Iraqi public opinion poll on Tuesday indicated that a majority of Iraqis want the U.S. to stay. The Asharq research center poll found that almost 60 percent of Iraqis think the withdrawal is coming too soon, with 51 percent saying the withdrawal would harm the security situation; 26 percent said it would have a positive effect.
The U.S. and Iraqi military have made significant inroads in dismantling the network of Al Qaeda in Iraq and other insurgent groups. U.S. officials say they believe there are fewer than 200 hard-core Al Qaeda fighters left in Iraq. But they have not been able to halt regular, high-profile attacks against Iraqi security forces, particularly against police who are supposed to take over from the Iraqi Army in securing cities and towns.
West of Baghdad, in Ramadi, three people, including two police officers, were killed and 16 wounded in two car bombs. One occurred at a police checkpoint. North of the capital, in the oil city of Kirkuk, attacks killed one and wounded 11 others. Another car bomb in Muqdadiya in Diyala Province killed three people and wounded 18, many of them police in one of at least five attacks in the province.
Car bombs in the southern cities of Karbala and Basra wounded more than 40 other people, according to security officials.
Attacks had been expected to spike during the holy month of Ramadan when Muslims believe God revealed the Koran to the prophet Mohammad. The violence is continuing as Iraq's leading political factions have failed to form a government almost six months after Iraqis went to the polls.
"We are facing a stagnant pond - there is nothing new but continuous meetings," says Haider al-Mulla, a member of parliament and spokesman for the Al Iraqiya bloc. "The main obstacle remains choosing the prime minister."
Prime Minister Maliki's Shiite alliance, which forms the biggest coalition, appears to be in danger of fracturing over Maliki's insistence that he lead any new government. As prime minister, he sent Iraqi Army troops into Basra and Sadr City to fight Muqtada Sadr's Mahdi Army militia and he has alienated other former political allies by making major decisions without consulting them. The Sadrists are one of Maliki's coalition partners.
Iraqiya is headed by one-time prime minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite whose party has substantial Sunni support.
The Sadr bloc has indicated it could abandon Maliki's coalition to align itself with the more secular Iraqiya coalition but al-Mulla described those talks as 'vague' and inconclusive.
Neither Maliki nor Allawi's political blocs won enough seats in the election to form a majority in parliament.
"The outcome of the election is complicated because there was no clear winner," says Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, who belongs to the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Massoud Barzani. "The Iraqi leadership is not accustomed to a culture of compromise."
(McClatchy special correspondents Laith Hammoudi and Mohammad Dulaimi contributed)