BAGHDAD — A wave of bombings ripped across Baghdad on Thursday morning, killing about 70 people and injuring more than 200 in the worst violence Iraq has seen in months. The bloodbath comes just days after American forces left the country.
The blasts also came on the heels of a political crisis between Iraq's Sunni and Shiite factions that erupted this weekend. The political spat, which pits Iraq's Shiite prime minister against the highest-ranking Sunni political leader, has raised fears that Iraq's sectarian wounds will be reopened during a fragile time when Iraq is finally navigating its own political future without U.S. military support.
While the string of explosions was likely not a direct response to the political Sunni-Shiite confrontation, it will ratchet up tensions at a time when many Iraqis are already worried about security. If continued, it could lead to the same type of tit-for-tat attacks that characterized the insurgency years ago.
Iraqi officials said at least 14 blasts went off early Thursday morning in 11 neighborhoods around the city. The explosions ranged from blasts from sticky bombs attached to cars to roadside bombs and vehicles packed with explosives. There was at least one suicide bombing among the attacks.
Most of the attacks appeared to hit Shiite neighborhoods although some Sunni areas were also targeted.
Earlier reports indicated that the worst of the violence occurred in the al-Amal neighborhood, where seven people were killed in a blast that appeared to target rescuers and officials who came to the scene after a previous explosion. At least four people were killed in one west Baghdad neighborhood when two roadside bombs exploded.
All the information came from police and hospital officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
In the southwestern neighborhood of Karrada, where a blast ripped through a side street near the Integrity Commission headquarters, sirens could be heard as ambulances rushed to the scene and a large plume of smoke rose over the explosion site.
"My baby was sleeping in her bed. Shards of glass have fallen on our heads. Her father hugged her and carried her. She is now scared in the next room," said one woman in west Baghdad who identified herself as Um Hanin. "All countries are stable. Why don't we have security and stability?"
At least 18 people were killed when the suicide bomber driving an ambulance detonated the vehicle near a government office in the mostly Shiite Karrada district, scattering car parts into a kindergarten, according to police and health officials.
"We heard the sound of a car driving, then car brakes, then a huge explosion. All our windows and doors are blown out; black smoke filled our apartment," said Maysoun Kamal, who lives in a Karrada compound.
Police and security sources said there were more than 10 explosions across Baghdad, mostly targeting Shiite districts. A total of 217 people were wounded.
While Baghdad and Iraq have gotten much safer over the years, explosions like Thursday's are still commonplace. They come at a precarious time in Iraq's political history, just days after American troops pulled out of Iraq.
The government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has accused Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi of running a hit squad that targeted government officials. Maliki is also pushing for a vote of no-confidence against another Sunni politician, the deputy prime minister Saleh al-Mutlaq.
Many Sunnis fear that this is part of a wider campaign to go after Sunni political figures in general and shore up Shiite control across the country at a critical time when all American troops have left Iraq.
Iraqi officials linked the attacks to the current crisis.
"The timing of these crimes and the places where they were carried out confirm ... the political nature of the targets," Maliki said in a statement.
A senior U.S. official however said Washington's initial assessment was that the violence was probably the work of al-Qaida.
"It has all the marks of al-Qaida, targeting large concentrations of civilians and it could be that they are trying to exploit this by seeking to re-create the support that they had in the west and the north of the country," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The United States "stands with Iraq as a strategic partner and a close friend," the White House said. "Attempts such as this to derail Iraq's continued progress will fail."
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the morning's violence. But the coordinated nature of the assault and the fact that the attacks took place in numerous neighborhoods suggested a planning capability only available to al-Qaida in Iraq.
Many of the neighborhoods were also Shiite areas which are a favorite target of al-Qaida. The Sunni extremist group often targets Shiites who they believe are not true Muslims.
Al-Qaida in Iraq is severely debilitated from its previous strength in the early years of the war, but is still able to launch coordinated and deadly assaults from time to time.
U.S. military officials have said they're worried about a resurgence of al-Qaida after the American military leaves the country. If that happens, it could lead Shiite militants to fight back and attack Sunni targets, thus sending Iraq back to the sectarian violence it experienced just a few years ago.
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