Insurgents killed at least 44 people in a wave of attacks against Iraqi security forces, gunning down soldiers at an army post and bombing police recruits waiting in line to apply for jobs, officials said.
The violence, which struck at least 11 cities and also wounded nearly 240 people, highlighted militant attempts to sow havoc in the country and undermine the government.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks but security forces are a frequent target of al Qaida's Iraq branch, which has vowed to reassert itself and take back areas it was forced from before US troops withdrew from the country last year.
In the deadliest attack, gunmen stormed a small Iraqi Army outpost in the town of Dujail before dawn, killing at least 10 soldiers and wounding eight more, according to police and hospital officials in the nearby city of Balad, 50 miles north of Baghdad.
Hours later, a car bomb struck a group of police recruits waiting in line to apply for jobs with the state-run Northern Oil Company outside the northern city of Kirkuk. City police commander Brigadier General Sarhad Qadir said seven recruits were killed and 17 wounded. He said all the recruits were Sunni Muslims and blamed the early morning attack on al Qaida, but did not provide details.
The carnage even stretched into the country's south, where bombs stuck to two parked cars exploded in the Shiite-dominated city of Nasiriyah, 200 miles south-east of Baghdad. The blasts were near the French consulate and a local hotel in the city, although the consulate did not appear to be a target of the attack.
Local deputy health director Dr Adnan al-Musharifawi said two people were killed and three were wounded at the hotel, and one Iraqi policeman was wounded at the consulate. Dr Al-Musharifawi said no French diplomats were among the casualties.
Al Qaida's Iraq franchise, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq, has for years had a hot-and-cold relationship with the global terror network's leadership. The two shared the goal of targeting the US military in Iraq and, to an extent, undermining the Shiite government that replaced Saddam Hussein's regime.
But al Qaida leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri distanced themselves from the Iraqi militants in 2007 because their attacks also killed Iraqi civilians instead of focusing on Western targets.
A string of smaller attacks also struck nine other cities, including Baghdad.