At least 42 people have been killed and scores wounded in a series of car bomb blasts in Baghdad, as the country faces one of its bloodiest years since 2003.
In a familiar pattern, neighborhoods with a Shia Muslim majority were targeted by more than a dozen car bombs. The attacks took place during rush hour, and ripped through markets, car parks and places where laborers were gathered for the start of the working day.
The worst attack took place in Sadr City district, where seven people were killed and 75 injured in an attack on a crowded vegetable market.
As is often the case in such attacks, no organization has officially claimed responsibility, but the suspicion has already fallen on Al Qaeda-linked Sunni terrorists, who have been blamed for a wave of similar attacks this year.
Interior Ministry spokesman Saad Maan vowed to defeat the Al Qaeda-linked groups he said were capitalizing on domestic and regional strife to sow violence in Iraq.
“Our war with terrorism goes on,” he declared in an interview with the Associated Press.
At least 5,000 people have been killed in Iraq so far this year, in a campaign of violence not seen since the peek of the conflict between western forces and Iraqi insurgents in 2008.
Western forces have since withdrawn from Iraq, but have left behind a country that is far from stable – wallowing in a political stalemate and a widening sectarian chasm between the country’s Shia majority and Sunni minority. Under Saddam Hussein’s rule, the Sunni minority – which comprises around 40% of the Iraqi population – was empowered at the expense of the Shia majority.
Since Saddam’s ouster the country’s Shia majority has risen to the top of Iraq’s political pile, and many Sunnis now complain of discrimination at the hands of authorities. This – along with the raging sectarian conflict in neighboring Syria – has fueled an Al Qaeda resurgence in Iraq. That has meant a serious escalation in sectarian attacks targeting the Shia population, which in turn has provoked a crackdown by security forces on the Sunni areas suspected of harboring the terrorists.
But that government crackdown – in spite of many tactical successes in dismantling local Al Qaeda cells – seems to have done little to quell the overall wave of violence. If anything, the perception that authorities are targeting the Sunni population is fanning the flames of resentment, and amplifying Al Qaeda’s call to arms.
Many have expressed concern that violence could return to the levels seen in 2006 and 2007, when open conflict between Sunni and Shiite Muslim groups left tens of thousands of people dead.