Baghdad bombings kill scores ahead of U.S. troop withdrawal

BAGHDAD (AP) — The bombing of a Baghdad bus station Thursday pushed the death toll from a weeklong series of blasts near Shiite targets to about 200, calling into question Iraq’s ability to provide security as U.S. combat troops slowly withdraw from cities.

The wave of attacks is undermining Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s declaration of a “great victory” in the U.S. pullout from urban areas by Tuesday’s deadline. He has declared June 30 a national holiday to be marked with celebrations.

Al-Maliki, a Shiite, has pinned his re-election hopes largely on security gains that have driven violence to wartime lows — an issue that’s become his stump speech in an undeclared campaign for a second term. Seven months before national elections, he tells audiences that he’s quashed major violence, dismembered al-Qaida and stamped out Shiite militias.

Much of his recent rhetoric has focused on June 30, part of a security agreement that calls for American forces to leave Iraq by the end of 2011.

On Saturday, al-Maliki declared that date a national victory and urged Iraqis to hold steady in the face of more violence, saying “don’t worry if some security breach occurs here or there.”

A few hours later, suspected Sunni insurgents struck in northern Iraq. A truck bomb packed with nearly a ton of explosives exploded in a Shiite town just outside the ethnically tense city of Kirkuk, killing 82 people. Officials blamed al-Qaida in Iraq for the attack.

On Monday, shootings and bombings killed more than 30 people in Baghdad’s Shiite neighborhoods. After a smattering of deadly attacks the following day, a massive bomb in the Baghdad Shiite stronghold of Sadr City left 78 people dead Wednesday.