BAGHDAD

Car bombs kill at least 66, fuel doubts about stability

Car bombs ripped through Shiite and Kurdish targets in Baghdad and other cities Wednesday, killing at least 66 people, wounding more than 200 and feeding growing doubts that Iraq will emerge as a stable democracy after decades of war and dictatorship.

The coordination, sophistication and targets of the attack bore the hallmarks of al-Qaida and its Sunni militant allies seeking to exploit tensions among religious and ethnic communities.

Iraqi authorities played down any suggestion that the devastating attacks that have taken place every few weeks or so since the U.S. military withdrew in mid-December portend a return to the all-out, tit-for-tat violence that tore the nation apart in 2006-2007.

“Iraqis are fully aware of the terrorism agenda and will not slip into a sectarian conflict,” said Baghdad military command spokesman Col. Dhia al-Wakeel.

BEIRUT

Syrian troops repel rebels; France says it’s ‘civil war’

Syrian forces pushed out scores of rebels holed up in a rebellious area near the Mediterranean coast Wednesday and state television said they retook control of the region following eight days of fierce shelling and clashes.

The mountainous Haffa region is one of several areas where government forces are battling rebels for control in escalating violence.

France said Syria is already in a civil war, echoing a similar statement by U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous on Tuesday.

The new French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told a news conference in Paris: “If you can’t call it a civil war, then there are no words to describe it.”

He added that to stop “this civil war from worsening,” President Bashar Assad must leave power and Syrian opposition groups must start a new government. He said he will be in personal contact with the opposition inside Syria.

KABUL, Afghanistan

Report: War becoming more hazardous to children

Children have been increasingly bearing the brunt of the war in Afghanistan, a new United Nations report says. The report details an array of hazards, including recruitment of child bombers, school attacks and sexual abuse of minors in government custody.

The number of children killed or injured in the Afghan conflict last year climbed to 1,756 — representing an average of 4.8 child casualties a day and marking a substantial increase over the 1,396 children hurt or killed in the previous year.