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15 Iraqi Cities Suffer Bomb Attacks as Al-Qaida Warns of New Offensive

July 23, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT

JUDY WOODRUFF: East of Syria, Iraq, too, was the scene of bloody violence today. Dozens of attacks in multiple cities left scores dead.

Margaret Warner has that story.

MARGARET WARNER: The bombings and shootings tore through Iraq on the fourth day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. It was the worst day of violence there in two years.

Suspicion fell on the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaida in Iraq, known for mounting closely coordinated strikes. In recent days, the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was said to have used the group’s website to announce a new offensive, code-named ‘Breaking the Walls.’

ABU BAKR AL-BAGHDADI, Al-Qaida in Iraq (through translator): At the top your priorities regarding targets is to chase and liquidate the judges, the investigators and the guards.

MARGARET WARNER: Today saw 37 separate attacks in 15 cities. Most hit government, military and police targets.

SALAH MIKHLIF, Iraq (through translator): I am asking, where are the authorities? Where is the police? About 15 houses were leveled to the ground.

MARGARET WARNER: The deadliest strike was in Taji, north of Baghdad, where more than 40 were killed. Also on the target list, Baghdad’s Sadr City and Husseiniya sectors, Baquba and Balad northeast of the capital and Tuz and Dujail in Saladin province. Mosul in the north and five towns around Kirkuk, including the city itself, were also head.

Today’s were just the latest in what has been a steady increase in attacks since U.S. forces left in December. And the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been nearly paralyzed by sectarian divisions.

But, in Washington, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland argued Iraqis are more than capable of securing their country.

VICTORIA NULAND, State Department: We have seen terrorists exploit the holy month, exploit the peaceful efforts by Iraqis to worship to commit acts of terror. But we continue to believe that Iraqi security forces are up to the task, that, net-net, the security situation over the last couple of years has improved in Iraq, as has the capability of Iraqi forces.

MARGARET WARNER: Al-Qaida in Iraq played a major role in fomenting brutal sectarian warfare in 2006 and 2007.