KUT, Iraq, Aug 15, 2011 (AFP) - Twin bomb blasts in the southern Iraqi city of Kut killed 34 people on Monday, the worst of a spate of nationwide violence that left at least 52 dead, just months ahead of a pullout of US forces.
The surge of attacks in 12 cities, which left more than 200 people wounded, raise major questions over the capabilities of Iraq's security forces after the country's leaders agreed to open talks with Washington over a military training mission to last beyond a projected year-end American withdrawal.
The violence, the deadliest in more than four months, was quickly condemned by parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi, who blamed security leaders for unspecified "violations."
In Monday's worst attack, a roadside bomb in the centre of Kut, 160 kilometres (100 miles) south of Baghdad, at 8:00 am (0500 GMT) was followed minutes later by a nearby car bomb, medical and security officials said.
"I was on my way to my shop in the market and suddenly I felt myself being thrown to the ground," said 26-year-old Saadun Muftin, speaking from the city's Karama hospital.
"After that I found myself in the hospital with wounds all over my body."
Another shopkeeper, Mohammed Jassim, described "smoke everywhere" in the square where the blasts took place.
Dhiauddin al-Ubudi, health director for Wasit province, of which Kut is the capital, put the toll at 34 dead and 64 wounded, with both figures including women and children. Security officials cordoned off the site of the attacks in their aftermath.
Monday's death toll was the highest in Iraq since March 29, when 58 people were killed in a massive attack on provincial government offices in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit.
In Tikrit on Monday, meanwhile, three policemen were killed and at least seven others were wounded when two suicide bombers blew up their explosives-packed vests inside the city's anti-terror headquarters.
"They managed to enter wearing police uniforms and using fake IDs, passing three checkpoints," said a security official, speaking on condition of anonymity. He said among those killed in the attack were Salaheddin province's deputy anti-terror chief.
"They were trying to free Al-Qaeda fighters from the anti-terror department's jail," the official said.
And in Baquba, north of the capital, four soldiers were gunned down at an Iraqi army checkpoint, according to Firas al-Dulaimi, a doctor at the restive city's main hospital.
Four other bomb blasts in Baquba and towns to its south left one dead and 32 wounded, Dulaimi said. Provincial government offices have been evacuated, a local security official said.
Two car bombs, the second of which was detonated by a suicide attacker, were also detonated in the holy Shiite city of Najaf, provincial police chief General Abdul Karim Mustafa said. A doctor at Najaf's al-Hakim hospital said four people were killed and 58 wounded.
A car bomb east of Karbala, another holy city in Iraq's south, killed two and wounded nine others, provincial council chief Mohammed al-Mussawi said.
Separate explosions in the disputed northern city of Kirkuk killed one and wounded 14, while twin blasts in the western city of Ramadi left one dead and injured seven others.
A car bomb and two roadside bombs killed one person and wounded 13 in Baghdad, and bomb attacks in Taji and Balad, just north of the capital, killed one and injured 14.
The attacks come after Iraqi leaders said on August 3 they would hold talks with the US over a security training mission to last beyond 2011, when all 47,000 American soldiers must withdraw under the terms of a 2008 bilateral security pact.
Violence in Iraq has declined from its peak in 2006 and 2007, but attacks remain common. A total of 259 Iraqis were killed in attacks in July, the second-highest figure for 2011.