MULTIPLE car bomb attacks on two markets and a taxi rank in Shia areas of Iraq yesterday killed at least 36 people and wounded almost 100.
Iraq is preparing for provincial elections in April, the first nationwide poll since American troops withdrew combat forces more than a year ago.
Sunnis have been called upon by an al-Qaeda linked group to attack Shiites, but there have been Sunni protests rejecting this. However, yesterday tens of thousands of Sunni protesters rallied in five major cities against Shiite prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, whom they claim leads a government which discriminates against them.
Earlier, suspected Sunni insurgents detonated five car bombs, killing 36 people and wounding 97, officials said.
It was the bloodiest day of attacks in Iraq since November, when 43 people, many of them Shiite pilgrims, were killed in a wave of bombings.
Yesterday’s attacks targeted an outdoor pet market in Baghdad’s northern Kazimyah neighbourhood, a vegetable market in the town of Shomali in Hillah province, south of the Iraqi capital, and taxi stand on the edge of the southern city of Karbala.
In Baghdad, the first car bomb exploded around mid-morning at the entrance to the Kazimyah market, police said. When panicked shoppers tried to flee, a second parked car exploded a few yards away, police added.
The twin blasts mangled several cars nearby. At least 17 people were killed and 45 wounded in the two blasts, police said. All the victims were civilians.
About an hour later, two car bombs exploded at the Shomali market, killing at least 14 and wounding 36, police said.
The car bomb on the edge of Karbala killed five and wounded 16, police said.
In Samarra, Sunni rally speaker Sheikh Mohammed Jumaa sent a warning to Mr al-Maliki. “Stop tyranny and oppression,” he said. “We want our rights. You will witness what other tyrants witnessed before you.”
There were also demonstrations in Fallujah and Ramadi in Anbar province, and rallies in Mosul and Tikrit, part of weekly protests sparked by the arrests of bodyguards of a senior Sunni politician in December.