BAGHDAD – Car bombs and other attacks killed at least 56 people in Iraq on Wednesday and wounded another 103 in a day of mayhem that heralds an annual surge in violence during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The bloodiest attack was a double car bombing on a crowded Baghdad shopping street that killed at least 32 and left more than 50 people wounded. It was the worst Baghdad attack since July.

The wave of attacks in the past few days have mostly been in areas where the extremist Sunni Muslim insurgent group al-Qaida in Iraq operates and the attacks bear the group’s trademarks, said Maj. Gen. Kevin J. Bergner, the top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq.

The group has vowed a campaign against Iraqis collaborating with the U.S., particularly Sunnis, and recent targets fit that threat.

The Islamic State of Iraq, a Sunni extremist umbrella group dominated by al-Qaida in Iraq, claimed credit for one of the worst attacks this week, a bombing Monday night in Baqouba, northeast of Baghdad in Diyala province, that targeted a reconciliation meeting of Sunnis and Shiites. The explosion killed about two-dozen Iraqis and injured more than 30 others. Among the dead was the police commander for the city and several of his officers.

The group also said it was responsible for the assassination Sept. 13 of a high-profile Sunni tribal leader who’d led a tribal rebellion against al-Qaida in Iraq.

Two policemen were killed in a car bombing in Mosul, a mostly Sunni city that is Iraq’s second largest. Sniper fire killed a police captain in Basra, Iraq’s third largest city, as he left police headquarters after work.

Car bombers were particularly active in Mosul and surrounding Ninevah province, where at least five such attacks were reported, including the one that killed the two policemen.

In the town of Um al-Divan, a suicide bomber driving a minibus rammed into the home of a contractor who frequently works on U.S. reconstruction projects, killing eight civilians and injuring 10.

In downtown Mosul, Ninevah’s capital, a morning car bomb at the site of a courthouse under construction killed three and injured 50.

Car bombs also targeted a police patrol in the town of Shirqat, southeast of Mosul, leaving four civilians dead, and an Iraqi army patrol on the highway between Mosul and Irbil. That attack injured three Iraqi soldiers.

Just after dawn in Fallujah, where al-Qaida has been relatively quiet for months, a dozen gunmen raided a police station and severely injured three police officers. Six gunmen were killed and five captured.

Another suicide bomber detonated the explosives he was carrying at a police checkpoint in Fallujah, but no one was killed.

The casualty toll in the double bombing at the Baghdad market was the worst here since July, when a bomb in the central Karrada district killed at least 90.

The bombs struck a busy shopping street in the Bayaa neighborhood of western Baghdad just as people were buying food from outdoor vendors for the evening Iftar feast, when Muslims break their daytime Ramadan fast when the bombs exploded.

The bombs were placed at opposite ends of the one-street market and went off about nearly simultaneously. Panicked shoppers who fled the first explosion by running down the street were caught by the second blast.

The neighborhood, which is one of the few in Baghdad where Sunnis and Shiites still live near one another, has been the scene of clashes between sectarian militias battling one another for dominance. U.S. troops apparently have made no effort to place blast walls or restrict access to the market, as they have in other parts of the city.

Bergner said the Ramadan jump in violence started a few weeks later than U.S. commanders had expected. He said the number of attacks so far is down compared with last year and are on a par with that in 2005.

According to figures supplied by his staff Wednesday, the number of incidents in the first two weeks of Ramadan fell 38 percent this year compared with the start of the holy month last year.

Bergner also announced that Iraqi special operations soldiers, with U.S. troops present, raided Iraq’s military academy at Rustamiyah on the eastern edge of Baghdad Tuesday night and arrested soldiers suspected of killing a previous commandant of the college, kidnapping another commandant and of other crimes.

The Ministry of Defense ordered the raid, Bergner said, which was a positive sign, showing that it was willing to police itself. An Iraqi Defense Ministry spokesman, Mohammed al Askari, said those arrested were not politically motivated. “The officers who were arrested don’t belong to any party and they care only about stealing money,” Askari said.

(McClatchy Newspapers correspondent Leila Fadel and special correspondents Laith Hammoudi and Sahar Issa contributed to this article.)

(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-09-26-07 1809EDT

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