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Deadly Explosions Stoke Fears of Violent Plunge in Iraq

By YASIR GHAZI and TIM ARANGO, BAGHDAD (NY Times): In the span of roughly an hour, as the streets were choked with morning commuters and shoppers, more than a dozen explosions struck around the city, killing at least 65 people and wounding far more, in the latest series of terrorist attacks that have engulfed Iraq.

The explosions here in Baghdad, which struck mainly Shiite neighborhoods, follow a series of beheadings in recent days, some of which were claimed by Al Qaeda’s Iraq affiliate. They have raised new fears that Iraq is plunging in to the bloody sectarian violence that gripped the country in 2006 and 2007, nearly tearing it apart.

In a scene reminiscent of those times, just as Baghdad was gripped by panic Wednesday morning, gunmen stormed the home of a Shiite family in the Sunni-dominated town of Latifiya, south of the capital, and slaughtered seven people, including four children, with sharp knives. Later, some local media reports said the bodies of the family members had been decapitated.

Meanwhile, as the explosions began ringing out across Baghdad in the morning, familiar scenes of panic and fear played out on the streets.

In one neighborhood, a suspicious car was spotted near a parking lot.

“Car bomb!” yelled a traffic policeman.

Pedestrians began panicking and running, not knowing which direction to go. Cars turned around, clogging the streets, as drivers rolled down their windows to prevent glass from exploding inside the vehicle.

After about four minutes the suspicious car exploded, sending a plume of black smoke skyward, killing seven people and injuring more than a dozen others, according to a security official.

The relentless series of coordinated attacks, which involved car bombs and suicide attackers, hit public markets, restaurants and a bus stop. In Baghdad alone, at least 65 people were killed. Nationwide, the carnage left more than 80 people dead from attacks on soldiers and civilians in Babel, Kirkuk and Mosul.

For days before the strikes, the local media published warnings by the government that a new wave of attacks was imminent, and security forces set up new checkpoints and other security measures. But in the end, the security forces were unable to stop the attacks, further undermining the confidence Iraqis have in the government to protect them. In recent weeks, the security forces have undertaken a series of operations, mostly in Sunni neighborhoods, as part of a campaign the government is calling “the revenge of the martyrs.” The Shiite-dominated government has claimed to have arrested hundreds of Sunni extremists and discovered a car bomb making factory, but the operations have also further antagonized the Sunni community with only limited effect on reigning in the violence.

The government has also engaged in a public relations campaign the aim of which seems to be to minimize the level of violence by releasing statements in the wake of the attacks that state lower death tolls than those reported by other security officials. Around midday on Wednesday, the Ministry of Interior published a statement online reporting that only 18 people had been killed. However, a government official, who for years has provided casualty figures to the media, had already said that more than 60 people had been killed.

In July, more than 1,000 Iraqis were killed in violent attacks, according to the United Nations, the highest death toll in more than five years. The waves of attacks have reinforced the fears of residents here in the capital that no place is safe — not their markets, their restaurant or cafes. Even the neighborhood soccer fields where their children play have become targets.

For Iraqis, the car bomb attacks are terrifying enough. But in recent days, grisly images of executions by Al Qaeda’s Iraq affiliate — which has renamed itself the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria to reflect its growing role in both countries — have emerged on the Internet, raising new fears of a return to the bloody sectarian violence of several years ago.

On Wednesday, photos were released on a Web site affiliated with Al Qaeda that showed the beheaded corpses of government soldiers who had been abducted near the northern city of Mosul. The photos were shown under the title, “beheadings of the rotten heads of the elements of al-Maliki,” a reference to Iraq’s Shiite prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.

In Diyala, a violent province north of Baghdad whose population is a mix of Sunnis and Shiites, gunmen stormed the home of a policeman Tuesday morning and beheaded him, according to a security official in the province.

And in a chilling video released several days ago by Al Qaeda, and which has played on state television, gunmen are seen on a highway in the remote desert of Anbar Province flagging down truck drivers and asking them if they are Sunni or Shiite. Three of the drivers, who were apparently Syrians and members of the Alawite sect, the offshoot of Shiism that dominates the ruling class in Syria that is fighting a Sunni-led rebellion, are lined up and shot in their backs. That episode appeared to have occurred in June, although the video was only released in recent days.

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For Indian tourists travelling by land:- 72 hours (-ve) C-19 report, CCMC form and Antigen Test at entry point

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