attacks in Iraq kill at least 67 people

BAGHDAD — Militants launched major bomb attacks in Baghdad and a western province Friday, killing at least 67 people and raising fears that the deaths of the two leaders of al-Qaeda in Iraq would not quell sectarian violence.

Bombs ripped through Shiite Muslim sections of Baghdad after Friday prayers and in western Anbar province, where Sunni Muslims first successfully revolted against al-Qaeda in Iraq four years ago. There were no immediate claims of responsibility, although the coordinated bombings bore the hallmarks of al-Qaeda in Iraq.

A senior aide to Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr told a satellite news channel that the group's Mahdi Army militia, which has been observing a truce since the end of 2008, would be activated to help guard mosques. Such a move would hark back to 2004 and 2005 when amid widespread sectarian violence, the militia guarded the Sadr City area of Baghdad against insurgent attacks.

Officials put a brave face on Friday's violence, declaring it the last throes of militant groups. "Targeting the (Shiite mosques) is a desperate attempt to fuel sectarian sedition," said Maj. Gen. Qassim Atta Moussawi, spokesman for the Iraqi military in Baghdad. "What has happened is the opposite... Terrorist schemes will fail."

The bombings came as politicians are still locked in a stalemate over forming the next government, six weeks after last month's national election. A recount of votes in Baghdad ordered this week by an appeals court raised questions on how long it would take before the new parliament could convene.

The violence followed the announcement Monday that the head of al-Qaeda in Iraq and an associate who led the Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella organization, had been killed in a joint Iraqi-U.S. military operation.

U.S. forces are scheduled to draw down to 50,000 by the end of August.