Baghdad was shaken on Thursday by a string of lethal bombings that not only killed at least 57 persons and wounded 180, but also heightened sectarian tensions that were already on edge following the withdrawal of American forces.

At least 12 blasts, likely coordinated, hit several neighbourhoods, leaving behind a trail of death and destruction. For several hours after the bombings, plumes of grey smoke swirled into the sky from the sites of the carnage.

The surge in violence on Thursday was seen by many as retaliation against the government which has issued an arrest warrant against Tariq-al Hashimi, Vice-President and an established Sunni leader. The Interior Ministry has levelled terrorism charges against Mr. Hashimi, based on statements that he personally ordered assassinations of his opponents, by his bodyguards. The embattled Vice-President, currently residing in the semi-autonomous area governed by the Kurdistan Regional Movement (KRG), has said he was ready to stand trial in the Kurdish areas, but has declined to participate in a judicial process run in Baghdad.

The controversy is already undermining political stability in Iraq, where the perception of a power vacuum is rife, following the U.S. exit, after nearly nine inglorious years of occupation.

Iraq's slide into chaos or the establishment of a new model of governance outside the existing framework that the Americans had micro-managed, would rob the Obama-administration of its claims of recording double-success in Iraq — of establishing democracy and withdrawing U.S. forces.

The Iraqiya coalition — holding 82 seats, of which Mr. Hashimi's Renewal List is a part — has already declared that it was suspending its participation in the 325-member Parliament. The Iraqi National List led by the former Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi, and the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue led by Saleh al-Mutlaq, are also part of this coalition which has solid Sunni support.

The bloc has accused Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki of “monopolising all decision-making”. In response, Mr. Maliki on Wednesday warned that in case Iraqiya did not participate, he would appoint new Ministers.

This has mounted further stress on the Iraq's fragile system of governance, which in the past has shown that it has an inbuilt capacity to fray along its several religious, sectarian and ethnic fault-lines.

The serial blasts on Thursday began in the early hours when Iraqis were heading for work and shops were about to open. The Karada neighbourhood was one of the worst hit by the multiple blasts, in which car bombs and improvised explosives were used with deadly effect.

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