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Wave of attacks kills at least 66 people in Iraq

— Oct. 27, 2013 2:14 PM EDT

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BAGHDAD (AP) — A series of attacks including car bombings in Baghdad, an explosion at a market and a suicide assault in a northern city killed at least 66 people Sunday across Iraq, officials said, the latest in a wave of violence washing over the country.

Coordinated bombings hit Iraq multiple times each month, feeding a spike in bloodshed that has killed more than 5,000 people since April. The local branch of al-Qaida often takes responsibility for the assaults, although there was no immediate claim for Sunday’s blasts.

Sunday’s attacks were the deadliest single-day series of assaults since Oct. 5, when 75 people were killed in violence.

Police officers said that the bombs in the capital, placed in parked cars and detonated over a half-hour period, targeted commercial areas and parking lots, killing 42 people.

The deadliest blasts struck in the southeastern Nahrwan district, where two car bombs exploded simultaneously, killing seven and wounding 15, authorities said. Two other explosions hit the northern Shaab and southern Abu Dashir neighborhoods, each killing six people, officials said. Other blasts hit the neighborhoods of Mashtal, Baladiyat and Ur in eastern Baghdad, the southwestern Bayaa district and the northern Sab al-Bor and Hurriyah districts.

Meanwhile, in the northern city of Mosul, a suicide bomber drove his explosives-laden car into a group of soldiers as they were sealing off a street leading to a bank where troops were receiving salaries, killing 14, a police officer said. At least 30 people were wounded, the officer said. Also in Mosul, police said gunmen shot dead two off-duty soldiers in a drive-by shooting.

The former insurgent stronghold of Mosul is located about 360 kilometers (225 miles) northwest of Baghdad.

In the afternoon, a bomb blast killed four people and wounded 11 inside an outdoor market in the Sunni town of Tarmiyah, 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of Baghdad, authorities said.

Sunday night, police said mortar shells landed on homes in a Shiite district of Madain, a town just south of Baghdad, killing four people and wounding nine, officials said.

Such coordinated attacks are a favorite tactic of al-Qaida’s local branch. It frequently targets civilians in markets, cafes and commercial streets in Shiite areas in an attempt to undermine confidence in the government, as well as members of the security forces. All of the car bombings Sunday in Baghdad struck Shiite neighborhoods.

In Mashtal in Baghdad, police and army forces sealed off the scene as ambulances rushed to pick up the wounded. Pools of blood covered the pavement. The force of the explosion damaged number of cars and shops. At one restaurant, the blast overturned wooden benches and left broken eggs scattered on the ground. In Shaab, a crane lifted away at least 12 charred cars as cleaners swept away debris.

Medical officials confirmed the casualty figures for all attacks. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to publicly release the information.

Violence has spiked in Iraq since April, when the pace of killing reached levels unseen since 2008. Today’s attacks bring the death toll across the country this month to 545, according to an Associated Press count.

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Associated Press writer Sameer N. Yacoub contributed to this report.

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Follow Sinan Salaheddin on Twitter at www.twitter.com/sinansm.

 

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AP Sources: 476,000 Obamacare Applications Filed

WASHINGTON October 20, 2013 (AP)
By JULIE PACE AP White House Correspondent

Administration officials say about 476,000 health insurance applications have been filed through federal and state exchanges, the most detailed measure yet of the problem-plagued rollout of President Barack Obama’s signature legislation.

However, the officials continue to refuse to say how many people have actually enrolled in the insurance markets. Without enrollment figures, it’s unclear whether the program is on track to reach the 7 million people projecting by the Congressional Budget Office to gain coverage during the six-month sign-up period.

Obama’s advisers say the president has been frustrated by the flawed rollout. During one of his daily health care briefings last week, he told advisers assembled in the Oval Office that the administration had to own up to the fact that there were no excuses for not having the website ready to operate as promised.

The president is expected to address the problems on Monday during a health care event at the White House. Cabinet members and other top administration officials will also be traveling around the country in the coming weeks to encourage sign-ups in areas with the highest population of uninsured people.

The first three weeks of sign-ups have been marred by a cascade of computer problems, which the administration says it is working around the clock to correct. The rough rollout has been a glaring embarrassment for Obama, who invested significant time and political capital in getting the law passed during his first term.

The officials said technology experts from inside and outside the government are set to work on the glitches, though they did not say how many workers were being added.

Officials did say staffing has been increased at call centers by about 50 percent. As problems persist on the federally run website, the administration is encouraging more people to sign up for insurance over the phone.

The officials did not want to be cited by name and would not discuss the health insurance rollout unless they were granted anonymity.

Despite the widespread problems, the Obama administration has yet to fully explain what went wrong with the online system consumers were supposed to use to sign up for coverage.

Initially, administration officials blamed a high volume of interest for the frozen screens that many people encountered. Since then, the administration has also acknowledged unspecified problems with software and some elements of the system’s design.

Interest in the insurance markets appears to continue to be high. Officials said about 19 million people had visited HealthCare.gov as of Friday night.

People seeking insurance must fill out applications before selecting specific plans. The applications include personal information, including income figures that are used to calculate any subsidies the applicant may qualify for.

More than one person can be included on an application.

Of the 476,000 applications that have been started, just over half have been from the 36 states where the federal government is taking the lead in running the markets. The rest of the applications have come from the 14 states running their own markets, along with Washington, D.C.

The White House says it plans to release the first enrollment totals from both the federal and state-run markets in mid-November.

An internal memo obtained by The Associated Press showed that the administration projected nearly a half-million people would enroll for the insurance markets during the first month.

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