Aimed at Iraqi security posts and U.S. coalition forces, the early-morning attacks reported in at least five Iraqi cities -- Baqubah, Fallujah, Ramadi, Mosul and Baghdad -- come less than a week before the June 30 transfer of sovereignty to Iraq and show an unusual level of strength.
The deadliest attacks were in Mosul, where the Iraqi Health Ministry -- which tracks Iraqi casualties nationwide -- said at least 44 people were killed in a series of car bombings at an Iraqi police academy, two police stations and a hospital. Reports from the mostly Kurdish city 220 miles north of Baghdad said one U.S. soldier was killed there and three injured.
Heavy fighting occurred in Baqubah, an area 35 miles northeast of Baghdad. At dawn, gunmen with AK-47 automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades attacked a government building and police station.
According to local Al-Jazeera satellite television network correspondents, at least 26 Iraqis were killed, including 16 policemen, and 30 were wounded.
In clashes with militants near two U.S. bases on the outskirts of Baqubah, two American soldiers were killed and seven injured, the U.S. 1st Infantry Division said.
A group headed by al-Qaida-linked operative Abu Musab al-Zarqawi claimed responsibility for Thursday's spate of attacks.
"Your brothers in Jama'at al-Tawhid and Jihad launched a wide assault in several governorates in the country which included strikes against the apostate police agents and spies, the Iraq army alongside their American brothers," said the Arabic-language statement posted on an Islamist Web site.
Al-Zarqawi's group has claimed responsibility for the beheadings of American hostage Nicholas Berg and South Korean hostage Kim Sun-il.
Tuesday an audiotape attributed to al-Zarqawi threatened to assassinate Iraq's interim Prime Minister lyad Allawi.
In Fallujah, a town U.S. Marines have largely avoided since a cease-fire agreement last month, fighting occurred on the eastern outskirts of the city. A U.S. Cobra attack helicopter made an emergency landing near the city, but none of the crew was hurt, the American military said.
"The fighting was very heavy and there are too many people killed to count," Qasim Muhammad Abdul Satar, a member of Fallujah's shura council, a body of town elders, told The New York Times.
In Ramadi, 60 miles west of Baghdad, masked insurgents wearing black attacked two police stations, blowing up one, police said.
"We were inside the al-Qataneh police station and suddenly a very heavy explosion happened," said 1st Lt. Ahmed Sami. "We discovered later on that the station was attacked from all around."
Seven people were killed in the initial blast and 13 were wounded, according to hospital officials.
In Baghdad, an explosion near a U.S. and Iraqi manned checkpoint in the southern district of Dora killed four Iraqi soldiers and injured at least one American. Reportedly caused by a car bomb, the blast injured at least two Iraqi citizens.
Fighting, which had subsided in a number of Iraqi cities, continued in Baqubah at midday local time.
"With the exception of what we are seeing in Baqubah, most seem to be under control right now," Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy director of operations for the American Army in Iraq, told reporters, according to Reuters.