BAGHDAD — Insurgents in Iraq deployed a series of car bombs as part of highly coordinated attacks that cut across a swath of the country Monday, killing at least 55 people on the deadliest day in nearly a month.
The assault bore the hallmarks of a resurgent al-Qaida in Iraq and appeared aimed at sowing fear days before the first elections since U.S. troops withdrew. There was no claim of responsibility, but coordinated attacks are a favorite tactic of al-Qaida's Iraq branch.
Iraqi officials believe the insurgent group is growing stronger and increasingly coordinating with allies fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad across the border. The officials say rising lawlessness on the Syria-Iraq frontier and cross-border cooperation with a Syrian group, the Nusra Front, has improved the militants' supply of weapons and foreign fighters.
The intensifying violence, some of it related to the provincial elections scheduled for Saturday, is worrying for Iraqi officials and Baghdad-based diplomats alike. At least 14 candidates have been killed in recent weeks, including one slain in an apparent ambush Sunday.
"Of course we are concerned about the violence in the country that has been increasing in the last weeks," U.N. envoy Martin Kobler told the Associated Press. He condemned the bloodshed and urged Iraqi officials to push ahead with the elections.
"They should be free and fair, and every voter should go to the polls free of intimidation and fear," he said.
Iraqi Army Maj. Gen. Hassan al-Baydhani, the No. 2 official at Baghdad's military command, said authorities defused three car bombs in Baghdad before they could go off. He described the violence as an attempt to derail the elections and intimidate voters.
"The terrorists want to grab headlines as we approach election day," he said.
Monday's attacks — most of them car bombings — were unusually broad in scope. Among the places where attacks erupted were the Sunni-dominated western Anbar province and Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, the ethnically contested oil-rich city of Kirkuk and towns in the predominantly Shiite south.
The deadliest attacks hit Baghdad, where multiple car bombs and other explosions killed 25.
Local police officials provided details of the attacks, and hospital officials confirmed the casualty tolls.