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46 killed in Iraq attacks ahead of Arab summit

— Bombings and shootings across Iraq killed 46 people on Tuesday, striking at police and Shiite pilgrims in a torrent of violence that officials had dreaded in the run-up to a Baghdad meeting of the Arab world's top leaders, which the government hoped would showcase the nation's stability.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks, which also wounded more than 200 people. But authorities have feared al-Qaida or its Sunni sympathizers would try to thwart next week's annual Arab League summit.

The gathering is to be held in Iraq for the first time in a generation. Plans for Baghdad to host the meeting last year were postponed, in part because of concerns about Iraq's security.

One of the deadliest strikes Tuesday hit the Shiite holy city of Karbala, where officials said two car bombs exploded in a crowded shopping and restaurant area. Thirteen people were killed and another 50 were wounded in that attack, said local provincial council member Hussein Shadhan al-Aboudi.

"The intention of these attacks is to destabilize the security situation in Karbala and other Iraqi cities and to shake the people's confidence on the government," al-Aboudi said. "It seems that the terrorists want to abort the upcoming Arab Summit in Baghdad. The message is directed to the Arab leaders that Iraq is not safe enough to be visited."

Karbala, 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Baghdad, is a destination for thousands of Shiite pilgrims from around the world who visit the golden shrines of two revered imams each day. Five Iranian pilgrims were among the dead.

The wave of violence began after dawn Tuesday.

Militants blew up the house of a police official in the western city of Fallujah, planted bombs near the fortified Green Zone and shot up a security checkpoint in Baghdad, set off an explosion at a police station in the northern city of Kirkuk and attacked restaurants and shopping areas in two southern towns.

In all, eight cities were hit in attacks that mostly appeared to target police and government officials.

Police and health officials in each city who confirmed the casualties spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Two of the attacks Tuesday hit right outside the Green Zone where the summit will be held.

Last week, the government said Iraq would deploy an unprecedented number of security forces to protect the capital for the summit. An estimated 26,000 police and soldiers — including more than 4,000 from Iraq's north and south — are expected to be deployed in Baghdad.