At least 107 people were killed in bomb and gun attacks in Iraq on Monday, a day after 20 died in explosions, in a coordinated surge of violence against mostly Shi'ite Muslim targets.
The bloodshed, which coincided with an intensifying of the conflict in neighboring Syria, pointed up the deficiencies of the Iraqi security forces, which failed to prevent insurgents from striking in multiple locations across the country.
As well as the scores of deaths, at least 268 people were wounded by bombings and shootings in Shi'ite areas of Baghdad, the Shi'ite town of Taji to the north, the northern cities of Kirkuk and Mosul and many other places, hospital and police sources said, making it one of Iraq's bloodiest days in weeks.
No group has claimed responsibility for the wave of assaults but a senior Iraqi security official blamed the local wing of al Qaeda, made up of Sunni Muslim militants bitterly hostile to the Shi'ite-led government, which is friendly with Iran.
"Recent attacks are a clear message that al Qaeda in Iraq is determined to spark a bloody sectarian war," the official said, asking not to be named.
"With what's going on in Syria, these attacks should be taken seriously as a potential threat to our country. Al Qaeda is trying to push Iraq to the verge of Shi'ite-Sunni war," he said. "They want things to be as bad as in Syria."
The last two days of attacks shattered a two-week lull in violence in the run-up to the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan, which started in Iraq on Saturday.
Sectarian slaughter peaked in 2006-2007 but deadly attacks have persisted while political tensions among Iraq's main Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish factions have increased since U.S. troops completed their withdrawal in December.
"I ask the government if security forces are capable of keeping control," a man named Ahmed Salim shouted angrily at the scene of a car bomb in Kirkuk. "With all these bloody bombs and innocent people killed, the government should reconsider its security plans," he told Reuters Television.
The security forces themselves were often the targets or victims of the assaults perpetrated across Iraq.
Gunmen using assault rifles and hand grenades killed at least 16 soldiers in an attack on an army post near Dhuluiya, 70 km (45 miles) north of Baghdad, police and army sources said.
In Taji, 20 km (12 miles) north of Baghdad, six explosions, including a car bombing, occurred near a housing complex. A seventh blast there caused carnage among police who had arrived at the scene of the earlier ones. In all, 32 people were killed, including 14 police, with 48 wounded, 10 of them police.
Two car bombs struck near a government building in Sadr City, a vast, poor Shi'ite swathe of Baghdad, and in the mainly Shi'ite area of Hussainiya on the outskirts of the capital, killing a total of 21 people and wounding 73, police said.
Nine people, including six soldiers, were killed in attacks in the northern city of Mosul, police and army sources said.
In Kirkuk, five car bombs killed six people and wounded 17, while explosions and gun attacks on security checkpoints around the restive province of Diyala killed six people, including four soldiers and policemen, and wounded 30, police sources said.
The orchestrated spate of violence followed car bombs on Sunday in two towns south of Baghdad and in the Shi'ite shrine city of Najaf that killed 20 people and wounded 80.
Last month was one of the bloodiest since the U.S. withdrawal, with at least 237 people killed and 603 wounded.