BAGHDAD (AP) -- Baghdad area residents awoke to a coordinated wave of bombings mainly targeting Shiite areas, and seven members of a single family were killed as they slept in an apparently sectarian attack in Iraq on Wednesday. At least 66 were killed and many more are wounded in total.
As increasingly common large-scale attacks grip the country, Iraqi officials are bracing for further fallout from the Syrian civil war raging across their western border. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced that he has put his government on high alert ahead of a possible military strike on Syria.
Wednesday's string of morning attacks was the latest in a relentless wave of killing that has left thousands dead since April, marking the country's worst spate of bloodshed since 2008. Coordinated car bomb attacks have hit Baghdad repeatedly for several months, sometimes as often as twice per week.
The violence raises fears that Iraq is hurtling back toward the brink of a civil war fueled by ethnic and sectarian differences.
On Wednesday, insurgents deployed explosives-laden cars, suicide bombers and other bombs and targeted parking lots, outdoor markets and restaurants in predominantly Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad, according to officials. A military convoy was also hit south of the capital.
Security forces sealed off the bomb scenes as ambulances raced to pick up the wounded. The twisted wreckage of cars littered the pavement while cleaners and shop owners brushed away debris. At one stricken restaurant, the floor was stained with blood, and dishes were scattered on plastic tables.
"What sin have those innocent people committed?" asked Ahmed Jassim, who witnessed one of the explosions in Baghdad's Hurriyah neighborhood. "We hold the government responsible."
The northern neighborhood of Kazimiyah, home to a prominent, gold-domed Shiite shrine, was among the worst hit. Two bombs went off in a parking lot, followed by a suicide car bomber who struck onlookers who had gathered at the scene. Police said 10 people were killed and 27 wounded in that attack.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the day's attacks, but they bore the hallmarks of the Iraqi branch of al-Qaida, which operates in Iraq under the name the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The group frequently targets Shiites, which it considers heretics, and employs coordinated bombings in an attempt to incite sectarian strife.
Charles Lister, an analyst at IHS Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Center, said the group is increasingly showing "huge confidence and military capability."
"Both the increasing frequency, and statistically, the increasing deadliness of (their) coordinated nationwide bombings in Iraq underlines the extent of their operational reach and the huge depth of their resources," he said.
The Shiite family shot dead at home was found in the largely Sunni town of Latifiyah, about 30 kilometers (20 miles) south of Baghdad. Three children, ages eight to 12, were killed along with their parents and two uncles in that attack, according to police.
Authorities said they had previously fled the town after being threatened, and returned only three weeks ago.
Many of the day's blasts targeted morning shoppers. Among them was a parked car bomb that detonated in a commercial area in the northern Shaab neighborhood of Baghdad, killing nine and wounding 25.
More parked car bombs went off in outdoor markets in the sprawling slum of Sadr City, where five were killed. Similar attacks hit the northeastern neighborhood of Shula, killing three; the southeastern Jisr Diyala district, killing eight; and the eastern New Baghdad area, killing three.
Blasts also hit the neighborhoods of Bayaa, Jamila, Hurriyah and Saydiyah, claiming a total of 12 lives.
Outside the capital, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a restaurant in Mahmoudiyah, about 30 kilometers (20 miles) south of Baghdad, killing five and wounding 14. And in Madain, about 25 kilometers (15 miles) southeast of Baghdad, a roadside bomb struck a passing military patrol, killing four soldiers and wounding six others.
Medical officials confirmed the casualty figures, which included more than 190 wounded. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release information.
The deputy United Nations envoy to Iraq, Jacqueline Badcock, condemned the blasts and urged authorities to do more to protect the Iraqi people.
"No political goal or grievance can possibly justify this daily bloodshed of innocent civilians," she said.
The violence follows months of protests by Iraq's Sunni minority against the Shiite-led government that began late last year. Attacks have been on the rise since a deadly security crackdown by security forces on a Sunni protest in April, while the increasingly sectarian nature of the civil war in neighboring Syria is inflaming Iraq's own long-festering differences between Sunnis and Shiites.
In response, clerics and other influential Shiite and Sunni leaders have called for restraint, and security forces have tried to ratchet up counterinsurgency operations.
More than 500 people have been killed so far in August, according to an Associated Press count.
The sectarian tensions fueling Iraq's spiraling violence are being exacerbated by the civil war in Syria.
There, largely Sunni rebels -- including members of Iraq's al-Qaida branch and other extremists -- are fighting to topple President Bashar Assad. The regime is dominated by members of Assad's minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, and is backed by regional Shiite powerhouse Iran.
Iraq's government, which has bolstered ties with Iran in the years since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, has an officially neutral stance on the civil war raging across its border. It has long called for a negotiated political settlement to the conflict.
Al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, said Wednesday that Iraqi security forces and other government institutions are on high alert to protect against any domestic consequences of a possible Western-led military action in Syria.
"We have taken every necessary action to protect our country from any dangerous developments that may result from the Syrian crisis and from the possible strike," he said in a televised address.
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