AT LEAST 71 people have been killed and 201 wounded in morning bombings and other attacks in Baghdad, according to medical sources, extending the worst wave of sectarian bloodshed in Iraq for at least five years.
It was not immediately clear who carried out the attacks yesterday, which appeared ti be co-ordinated, but Sunni Muslim insurgents, including the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq, have significantly stepped up bombings this year.
More than two years of civil war in neighbouring Syria have aggravated deep-rooted sectarian divisions in Iraq, fraying the country’s uneasy coalition of Shi’ite Muslim, Sunni Muslim and Kurdish factions.
In Sadr City, an impoverished Shi’ite district in Baghdad’s north-east, two car bombs killed seven people. A restaurant owner said he saw an attacker just before one of the explosions.
“A man parked his car in front of the restaurant. He got breakfast and drank his tea. [Then] I heard a huge explosion when I was inside the kitchen,” the owner said.
“When I went outside, I saw his car was completely destroyed and he had disappeared. Many people were hurt.”
Another car bomb killed seven people and wounded 23 in Jisr Diyala, in south-east Baghdad, police and medics said.
The interior ministry described the attacks as “terrorist explosions” but said the number of people killed was only 20, with 213 wounded. The Shi’ite-led Baghdad government has said that media reports exaggerate attacks in Iraq and that security forces have stopped many attempted bombings.
Wednesday’s violence was worst since 10 August, when nearly 80 people were killed during a religious holiday.
More than 1,000 Iraqis were killed in July, the highest monthly death toll since 2008, according to the United Nations. The renewed violence, 18 months after US troops withdrew from Iraq, has stirred anxiety about a relapse towards the widespread sectarian slaughter of 2006-7.
In other attacks yesterday, gunmen killed six members of al-Sahwa – former Sunni insurgents who rebelled against al-Qaeda – in an ambush on a checkpoint in Latifiya, a suburb 25 miles south of Baghdad.
Gunmen also stormed a Shi’ite home in the same area, killing six family members, police and medical sources said.
In Kadhimiya, a neighbourhood in north-west Baghdad, two roadside bombs and one car bomb killed five people and wounded nearly 30, the sources said.
After years of reduced violence, the intensity of attacks has dramatically risen since the start of 2013. Bombings have often targeted cafes and other places where families gather, as well as the usual military facilities and checkpoints.
Charles Lister, an analyst at IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre, said the Islamic State of Iraq is increasingly showing “huge confidence and military capability”.
The deputy UN envoy to Iraq, Jacqueline Badcock, condemned the blasts.