A string of deadly bombings that has mainly targeted Iraqi Shias have killed at least 59 people, aggravating the sectarian divide in the country at a time when Iraq is facing a festering political crisis.
At least 30 Shia pilgrims have been killed in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah, following a suicide bombing, said a Reuters report quoting Qusay al-Abadi, the head of the provincial council in the city.
The mayhem unleashed at a police checkpoint at Nasiriyah, 300 km southeast of Baghdad followed a series of lethal blasts in the Shia strongholds of Baghdad.
In the Iraqi capital, as the rush hour began to build in the early hours on Thursday, a motorcycle strapped with explosives blew up. The powerful blast killed 13, in an area of the Shia dominated Sadr city, where labourers were waiting to be hired.
Shortly afterwards, more lethal explosions rocked the Kadhimiya district, a location that again has a high concentration of Shias. On this occasion when two car bombs detonated, 16 people were killed and dozens wounded, local authorities said.
Violence has spiralled in Iraq after Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki has sought to consolidate power in the midst of a political vacuum that has followed the departure of American forces from the country. A fortnight ago, serial blasts had wreaked havoc in the Iraqi capital, causing 63 deaths —the highest number of casualties that the city had suffered in over a year.
Thursday’s attacks were finely timed to abrade the frail sentiment of coexistence between Iraq’s majority Shia and the Sunni community, which historically has exercised power despite its minority status.
The deadly strikes preceded the holiday of Arbain, when there is a mass congregation of Shias at the holy shrines to mark the fortieth day of Imam Husain’s passing.
Despite the recent spurt in bombings, the country is yet to capsize in a vortex of sectarian violence, though retaliation against the carnage on Thursday may not be far away.
The latest attacks are expected to impose fresh pressure on the government Mr. Al-Maliki, who is at the centre of a deep domestic political crisis, which appears to be prolonging. The Iraqi non-Shia parties representing the Sunnis and the Kurds, who mainly reside in northern Iraq, are boycotting the Parliament and the Cabinet. They took the unconventional step after terrorism charges had been slapped on Vice-President Tariq Hashemi, a Sunni, who has, as a result gone into hiding in the Kurdish city of Arbil, the capital of a semi-autonomous zone.
The government has attributed the surge in attacks to “terrorists” who wish to drive Iraq into chaos. "We are in a battlefield with the terrorists... and with the enemies of the political process, so we do not consider these (explosions) as a surprise for us or something strange. We are used to such (insurgent) operations," Qassim al-Moussawi, a government spokesman was quoted as saying.