A wave of car bombs and shootings killed at least 70 people in Shiite and Sunni areas of Iraq on Monday, officials said, escalating fears of a return to widespread sectarian bloodletting in the country.
The attacks, some of which hit market places and crowded bus stops during the morning rush hour, pushed the death toll in Iraq since Wednesday to over 200. The bloodshed over the past week has been reminiscent of the retaliatory attacks between Sunnis and Shiites that pushed the country to the brink of civil war in 2006-2007.
Tensions have been worsening since Iraq’s minority Sunnis began protesting what they say is abuse at the hands of the Shiite-led government. The mass demonstrations, which began in December, have largely been peaceful, but the number of attacks rose sharply after a deadly security crackdown on a Sunni protest camp in northern Iraq on April 23.
Iraq’s Shiite majority, which was oppressed under Saddam Hussein, now controls the levers of power in the country. Wishing to rebuild the nation rather than revert to open warfare, they have largely restrained their militias over the past five years or so as Sunni extremist groups such as al-Qaida have targeted them with occasional large scale attacks.
But the renewed violence in both Shiite and Sunni areas since late last month has fuelled concerns of a return to sectarian warfare.
The worst of Monday’s violence took place in Baghdad, where ten car bombs ripped through open air markets and other areas of Shiite neighborhoods, killing at least 46 people and wounding more than 150, police officials said.
In the bloodiest attack, a parked car bomb blew up in a busy market in the northern Shiite neighborhood of Shaab, killing 13 and wounding 25, police and health officials said.
The surge in bloodshed has exasperated Iraqis, who have lived for years with the fear and uncertainty bred of random violence.
“How long do we have to continue living like this, with all the lies from the government?” asked 23 year old Baghdad resident Malik Ibrahim. “Whenever they say they have reached a solution, the bombings come back stronger than before.”
“We’re fed up with them and we can’t tolerate this anymore,” he added.
The predominantly Shiite city of Basra in southern Iraq was also hit Monday, with two car bombs there one outside a restaurant and another at the city’s main bus station killing at least 13 and wounded 40, according to provincial police spokesman Col. Abdul Karim al-Zaidi and the head of city’s health directorate, Riadh Abdul Amir.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks, but such large scale bombings bear the hallmarks of al-Qaida in Iraq.
The violence also struck Sunni areas, hitting the city of Samarra, north of Baghdad and the western province of Anbar, a Sunni stronghold.
A parked car bomb in Samarra went off near a gathering of pro-government Sunni militia who were waiting outside a military base to receive salaries, killing three and wounding 13, while in Anbar, gunmen ambushed two police patrols near the town of Haditha, killing eight policemen, police and army officials said.
Also in Anbar, authorities found 13 dead bodies in a remote desert area, officials said. The bodies, which included eight policemen who were kidnapped by gunmen on Friday, had been killed with a gunshot to the head.