A WAVE of more than a dozen car bombings hit central and southern Iraq during morning rush hour yesterday, killing at least 51 people, in the latest co-ordinated attack by insurgents.
The blasts, which left scores more injured, were the latest in a surge of attacks that has raised fears of a return to the widespread sectarian bloodshed that pushed the country to the brink of civil war after the 2003 invasion.
Suicide attacks, car bombings and other acts of violence are estimated to have killed more than 3,000 people since April, including more than 500 since the start of this month.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for yesterday’s bombs, but they bore the hallmarks of al-Qaeda’s Iraqi arm, known as the Islamic State of Iraq. It frequently sets off such co-ordinated blasts in an effort to break Iraqis’ confidence in the Shiite-led government.
Police officers said a total of 12 parked car bombs had hit markets and car parks in predominantly Shiite areas of Baghdad within one hour.
The deadliest were in the eastern Shiite district of Sadr City, where two separate explosions killed nine civilians and wounded 33 others.
Ambulances rushed to the scene, where rescuers and police were removing the charred and twisted remains of the car bombs from the bloodstained pavement. The force of the two explosions damaged nearby houses and shops.
Taxi driver Ali Khalil, 36, was passing nearby when the first bomb exploded. “I heard a thunderous explosion that shook my car and broke the rear window,” he said. “I immediately pulled over and didn’t know what to do, while seeing people running or lying on the ground.”
He took two of the wounded to a nearby hospital before heading back to his home and stayed indoors for the rest the day. Like many Iraqis, he blamed political infighting and inadequate security forces for the deteriorating security situation.
Hours after the explosions, Gyorgy Busztin, the United Nations’ acting envoy to Iraq, expressed concern over “the heightened level of violence which carries the danger that the country falls back into sectarian strife”.
He said: “Iraq is bleeding from random violence, which sadly reached record heights during the holy month of Ramadan.”
He called for immediate and decisive action to stop the “senseless bloodshed”.
Ten other bombs around Baghdad, mostly in Shiite-dominated suburbs as well as the town of Mahmoudiya 20 miles to the south, killed 31 people.
The wave of bombings also extended to the Shiite south.
Back-to-back explosions from two parked car bombs in an outdoor market and near a gathering of construction workers killed seven civilians and wounded 35 others in the city of Kut, some 100 miles south-east of Baghdad.
And in the oil-rich city of Basra in southern Iraq, four people were killed and five wounded when a parked car bomb ripped through a market. Basra is 340 miles south-east of the capital.
Health officials confirmed the casualty figures.
The violence surged after an April crackdown by security forces on a Sunni protest camp in the northern town of Hawija that killed 44 civilians and a member of the security forces, according to United Nations estimates.
The bloodshed is linked to rising sectarian divisions between Iraq’s Sunnis and Shiites, as well as friction between Arabs and Kurds, dampening any hopes there might have been for a return to normal life, nearly two years after United States forces withdrew from the country.