Al-Qaida's umbrella group in Iraq claimed responsibility Friday for a triple suicide bombing outside foreign embassies in Baghdad, which killed more than 40 people.
The group, known as the Islamic State of Iraq, posted a statement on a Web site that carries al-Qaida and other militant declarations.
The statement said the embassy attacks last Sunday were a "new strike into the heart of the security plan" in the Iraqi capital. It also said "all diplomatic corps, embassies and international organizations" dealing with the Iraqi government are "legitimate targets."
The embassy bombings are part of a wave of recent violence in and around the capital that has killed some 120 people in a week. The bloodshed suggests insurgents are seizing on political uncertainty after March elections to try to destabilize Iraq as U.S. troops prepare to leave.
The U.S. military plans to reduce troop levels from some 96,000 to 50,000 by Aug. 31, when it will end combat operations. As part of an agreement with Iraq, the U.S. will withdraw all forces by the end of 2011.
On Friday, thousands gathered in the holy city of Najaf, shouting "Iraq is for Iraqis!" and "There is no place for occupiers!" during an annual march organized by anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to mark the anniversary of the fall of Baghdad.
"If you stay united, you will defeat the occupier and get them out of our sacred land," said al-Sadr's aide Sayyid Hazim Al-Araji, reading a speech on the behalf of the cleric, who is living in Iran.
"If you divide, the occupier and its supporters will stay in our land," he said.
U.S. Brig. Gen. Ralph Baker told reporters in Baghdad earlier this week that he understands there are "some Iraqis that think the U.S. military will never leave Iraq." But, he emphasized, the drawdown plans were on track and have not changed despite the recent violence.
Extremists seem to be trying to provoke mayhem as Iraq's politicians negotiate to form a stable government after the March 7 parliamentary election that failed to produce a clear winner.
A secular front-runner bloc is currently holding talks with religious Shiite parties — a threatening prospect for insurgents whose stock-in-trade is rage, not peace.
The attacks could further stoke sectarian tensions, which in turn may make Shiite parties less likely to join former prime minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite backed by Sunnis.
Allawi's political coalition, Iraqiya, came out ahead in the vote, narrowly edging Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's bloc by just two seats. Allawi has raised the prospect that terror attacks will only increase if the negotiations over forming a new government drag on for months.
The Islamic State of Iraq denied Friday that it had anything to do with another attack earlier this week, when bombs ripped through apartment buildings and a market in mostly Shiite areas of Baghdad, killing 50.
Other recent violence includes the shooting deaths of a Shiite couple and four of their children in their home outside Baghdad on Monday. One week ago, gunmen went house-to-house in a Sunni area south of Baghdad, killing 24 villagers execution-style.
Associated Press Writers Saad Abdul-Kadir in Baghdad and Maamoun Youssef in Cairo contributed to this report.
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