‘Deadliest day of year’ in Iraq
People inspect the aftermath of a car bomb attack in Baghdad’s Sadr City. AP photoAt least 107 people were killed in coordinated bomb and gun attacks in 13 cities across Iraq yesterday, the deadliest day in the strife-torn country in a year.
The violence came a day after 20 died in another series of explosions that came as part of a coordinated surge of violence against mostly Shiite Muslim targets.
Al-Qaeda had warned it would mount new attacks and was seeking to retake territory. The attacks sent a chilling warning that the Islamist group was resurging in the security vacuum created by a weak government in Baghdad and the departure of the U.S. military seven months ago, Reuters reported.
The worst attack was in the town of Taji, about 20 kilometers north of the capital. Police said bombs planted around five houses in the Sunni town exploded an hour after dawn, followed by a suicide bomber who detonated his explosive belt in the crowd of police who rushed to help. A total of 41 people were killed, police said. In a separate, brazen attack on Iraq’s military, three carloads of gunmen pulled up at an army base near the northeastern town of Udaim and started firing at forces. Thirteen soldiers were killed in the attack while the gunmen escaped before they could be caught, two senior police officials said.
In the Baghdad suburb of Hussainiya, a car exploded near a construction site, killing two, police said. Further north, bombs planted in five towns around Kirkuk and in the oil-rich city itself killed nine, officials said. At least four attacks in the northern city of Mosul – a former al-Qaeda stronghold – left 10 people dead in bombings and shootings, police said. All of the casualties were confirmed by police and health officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information. In northeastern Diyala province, police spokesman Maj. Ghalib al-Karkhi said exploding cars, roadside bombs and a drive-by shooting at a security checkpoint had killed 11.
In total, at least 268 people were wounded by bombings and shootings.
No group has claimed responsibility for the wave of assaults, but a senior Iraqi security official blamed the local wing of al-Qaeda, made up of Sunni Muslim militants bitterly hostile to the Shiite-led government, which is friendly with Iran. “With what’s going on in Syria, these attacks should be taken seriously as a potential threat to our country. Al-Qaeda is trying to push Iraq to the verge of Shiite-Sunni war. … They want things to be as bad as in Syria,” he said.
On July 22, the leader of al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq declared a new offensive aimed at sowing instability across the country and warned that the militant network was returning to strongholds from which it had been driven while the American military was present, The Associated Press reported.
“Al-Qaeda is trying to send a message that it is still strong and can choose the time and places to attack,” said Shiite lawmaker Hakim al-Zamili, a member of the Iraqi Parliament’s security and defense committee. He said weaknesses in Iraq’s ability to gather intelligence about terrorist plots or to stop them, despite security checkpoints, has shown how toothless the government is in protecting its people.
“The majority of the Sunnis in Iraq support al-Qaeda and are waiting for its return,” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, head of the Islamic State of Iraq since 2010, said in a statement posted on a militant website.