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Iraq Boosts Security after 119 Killed in Attacks

Updated 7:45 a.m. EST

Iraq boosted security around Baghdad and the rest of the country Tuesday, a day after a string of attacks across the country killed 119 people and wounded hundreds.

The sheer breadth of the attacks, stretching from cities in the north to the normally peaceful southern port of Basra, was a blow after recent victories against insurgents and raised questions about the militants' enduring strength.

Across Baghdad, as helicopters buzzed through the skies, new checkpoints were established, especially in the east side of the city. In the past, however, boosted security has often lapsed within a few days.

South of Baghdad, around the provincial capital of Hillah where the most devastating attack took place, authorities beefed up manpower at checkpoints and searched cars more frequently.

At least 50 people died in Hillah after a pair of car bombs exploded at a factory, luring over rescuers and onlookers, many of whom were then killed by a suicide bomber.

Police are investigating the 40 guards at the factory for any connections to the attack, said police spokesman Maj. Muthana Khalid, adding that his forces were conducting house-to-house searches across the Sunni-dominated agricultural areas in the north of the province.

Governor Salman Nasser al-Zargani told state TV Monday that there had been threats against the factory - which was rebuilt with U.S. funds - but there were too many "security gaps" to address all their areas of weakness.

Hillah has been the site of horrific bombings in the past, including blasts in 2007 that killed at least 120 people. The north of the province is mixed between Sunnis and Shiites and was once the scene of bloody sectarian fighting.

The relentless cascade of bombings and shootings - hitting at least 10 cities and towns as the day unfolded - raised questions about whether Iraqi security forces can protect the country as the U.S. prepares to withdraw half of its remaining 92,000 troops in Iraq over the next four months.

Officials were quick to blame insurgents linked to al Qaeda in Iraq for the shootings in the capital, saying the militants were redoubling efforts to destabilize the country at a time of political uncertainty over who will control the next government.

The bombings came as Iraq's political factions were still bogged down in negotiations to form a new government more than two months after inconclusive parliamentary elections were held.

Sunni anger at Shiite domination of successive governments since Saddam Hussein's 2003 ouster was a key reason behind the insurgency that sparked sectarian warfare in 2006 and 2007 and the fear is that another similar government could restart the violence.

After Hillah, Basra was the worst hit city, with the morgue reporting a total of 30 people dying in three bombings in the city.

Basra, Iraq's second largest city, has been peaceful since Iraqi and U.S. forces routed Iranian-backed militias in 2008. Even then, however, it rarely witnessed the massive car bomb attacks favored by groups like al Qaeda in Iraq, possibly indicating a longer reach for these groups than in the past.

The provincial council ordered flags lowered at half mast and a three day mourning period, said council head Jabar Amin. He added that since the early morning there has been a boosted police and military presence around the city.

Dozens of funeral convoys poured into the holy city of Najaf, where Shiites prefer to bury their dead near the shrine of Imam Ali, the sect's most revered martyr.

Relatives carried the coffins with victims of the bombings in Baghdad, Basrah, Hillah and elsewhere into the shrine for one last blessing before taking them to vast graveyard.

Security around the shrine and cemetery was also high.