BAGHDAD (AP) — An onslaught of bombings and shootings killed 82 people across Iraq on Monday, officials said, in the nation's deadliest day so far this year.
The attacks come days after the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq warned in a statement that the militant group is reorganizing in areas from which it retreated before U.S. troops left the country last December.
Monday's violence in 12 Iraqi cities and towns appeared coordinated: The blasts all took place within a few hours of each other. They struck mostly at security forces and government officials — two of al-Qaida's favorite targets in Iraq.
"It was a thunderous explosion," said Mohammed Munim, 35, who 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. Sixteen people were killed in the single attack.
"The only thing I remember was the smoke and fire, which was everywhere, said Munim from his bed in the emergency room at Sadr City hospital. He was hit by shrapnel in his neck and back.
The worst attack happened in the town of Taji, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of the capital. Police said bombs planted around five houses in the Sunni town exploded an hour after dawn, killing 17. Police who rushed to the scene to help were hit by a suicide bomber in the crowd, killing another 11.
And in a brazen attack on Iraq's military, three carloads of gunmen pulled up at an army base near the northeast town of town of Udaim and started firing at forces. Thirteen soldiers were killed, and the gunmen escaped before they could be caught, two senior police officials said.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.
The overall toll made Monday the deadliest day in Iraq since U.S. troops left in mid-December. Before Monday, the deadliest day was Jan. 5, when a wave of bombings targeting Shiites killed 78 people in Baghdad and outside the southern city of Nasiriyah.
Last weekend, the leader of al-Qaida's affiliate in Iraq warned that the militant network is returning to strongholds from which it was driven from while the American military was here.
"The majority of the Sunnis in Iraq support al-Qaida and are waiting for its return," Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, head of the Islamic State of Iraq since 2010, said in the statement that was posted on a militant website.