and Sinan Salaheddin
BAGHDAD: Car bomb blasts and other explosions tore through mainly Shiite districts around Baghdad during morning rush hour Wednesday in a day of violence that killed at least 80, intensifying worries about Iraq’s ability to tame the spiraling mayhem gripping the country.
It was the latest set of large-scale sectarian attacks to hit Iraq, even as the government went on “high alert” in case a possible Western strike in neighboring Syria increases Iraq’s turmoil.
A relentless wave of killing has left thousands dead since April in the country’s worst spate of bloodshed since 2008. The surge in violence raises fears that Iraq is hurtling back toward the widespread sectarian killing that peaked in 2006 and 2007, when the country was teetering on the edge of civil war.
Most of Wednesday’s attacks happened within minutes of each other as people headed to work or were out shopping early in the day. Insurgents unleashed explosives-laden cars, suicide bombers and other bombs that targeted parking lots, outdoor markets and restaurants in predominantly Shiite areas in and around Baghdad, officials said. A military convoy was hit south of the capital.
Security forces sealed off the blast scenes as ambulances raced to pick up the wounded. The twisted wreckage of cars littered the pavement while cleaners and shop owners brushed away debris. At one restaurant, the floor was stained with blood and dishes were scattered on plastic tables.
“What sin have those innocent people committed?” asked Ahmed Jassim, who witnessed one of the explosions in Baghdad’s Hurriyah neighborhood. “We hold the government responsible.”
The northern neighborhood of Kazimiyah, home to a prominent Shiite shrine, was among the worst hit. Two bombs went off in a parking lot, followed by a suicide car bomber who struck onlookers who had gathered at the scene. Police said the attack killed 10 people and wounded 27.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks, but they bore the hallmarks of the Iraqi branch of al-Qaida, which operates under the name the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The group frequently targets Shiites, which it considers heretics.
Charles Lister, an analyst at IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Center, said the group is increasingly showing “huge confidence and military capability.”
“Both the increasing frequency, and statistically, the increasing deadliness of [their] coordinated nationwide bombings in Iraq underlines the extent of their operational reach and the huge depth of their resources,” he said.
In one particularly brutal attack, a Shiite family was shot dead at home in the largely Sunni town of Latifiyah. Four children, ages eight to 16, were killed along with their parents and an uncle, police said. Authorities said they had previously fled the town after being threatened and had returned only three weeks ago.