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Attacks on Iraq Shiites kill 23 ahead of anniversary

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Attacks in Iraq on Tuesday killed 23 people on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the US-led invasion, which aimed to build a democratic ally in the heart of the region but instead sparked brutal unrest.

At least a dozen car bombs and assassinations in and around Baghdad also wounded 93 people amid a spike in violence that has raised fresh questions about the capabilities of the Iraqi security forces barely a month ahead of the country's first elections in three years.

The latest attacks illustrate the deadly violence that plagues Iraq a decade after the invasion, and come after separate reports published by Britain-based Iraq Body Count and researchers in The Lancet putting the overall death toll from a decade of bloodshed at over 112,000 civilians.

All of Tuesday's attacks barring one struck in Shiite neighbourhoods in and around Baghdad during morning rush hour, with security forces stepping up searches at checkpoints and closing off key roads, worsening the capital's gridlock, an AFP reporter said.

Soldiers and police also established new checkpoints, and unusually, were searching at least some government-marked vehicles that are typically allowed to pass uninspected.

In all, 11 car bombs were set off, including two by suicide attackers, along with one roadside bomb and two gun attacks, officials said.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the violence, but Sunni militants often target Shiite civilians and government employees in a bid to destabilise the country.

Violence has spiked ahead of the 10th anniversary, with 87 people killed in the past week, according to an AFP tally based on reports from security and medical officials.

Iraqi officials have not announced any ceremonies to mark the anniversary on Wednesday, with events more likely to be held on April 9 to mark the day Baghdad fell.

Launched with the stated goal of wiping out Saddam's stores of weapons of mass destruction, which were never found, the focus of the divisive war quickly shifted to solidifying Iraq as a Western ally in an unstable region.

Though the war itself was relatively brief -- it began on March 20, 2003, Baghdad fell weeks later, and then-US president George W. Bush infamously declared the mission accomplished on May 1 -- its aftermath was violent and bloody.

Britain-based Iraq Body Count has said that more than 112,000 civilians have been killed since the 2003 invasion, while a study published in The Lancet put the figure at 116,000 from 2003 up to December 2011, when US forces pulled out.

Violence, which remains high by international standards, was only brought under some measure of control from 2008 onwards, as the American troop "surge" coincided with Sunni tribal militias deciding to side with US forces.

But political reconciliation, the strategic goal of the surge, was never fully achieved.

From territorial disputes in the north to questions over the apportioning of the country's vast energy revenues, a number of high-level problems remain unresolved, while Iraqis still grapple with daily struggles ranging from poor provision of basic services to high levels of unemployment.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's erstwhile government partners, meanwhile, have charged him with monopolising power, and little in the way of landmark legislation has been passed in recent years.

Through it all, however, a bright spot has been Iraq's booming oil sector, which has boosted the government's coffers and is projected to expand still further.

Since the American withdrawal, Iraq's military and police are consistently described by Iraqi and American officials as capable of maintaining internal security, but not yet fully able to protect the country's borders, airspace and maritime territory.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130319/attacks-iraq-shiites-kill-23-ahead-anniversary-0