At least 23 people were killed in a wave of attacks around Baghdad on Sunday, two of which have been claimed by the so-called Islamic State.
Suicide bombings at two markets in mainly Shiite neighborhoods left at least sixteen shoppers dead and dozens more injured, said Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Saad Maan, with three additional bombings in and around the city killing seven and wounding 24 others. A policeman and two medical officials gave a higher death toll.
The bombings were the latest in a string of attacks across Baghdad and other Iraqi cities that have killed more than 80 people in just over a week. The violence comes as Iraqi forces attempt to drive the Islamic State out of the northern city of Mosul, its last major stronghold in Iraq, in a large-scale US-backed operation that began in mid-October. As Scott Peterson reported for The Christian Science Monitor at the time:
For the government in Baghdad, there is no bigger prize than recapturing Mosul, Iraq’s second city, which fell ignominiously as the Iraqi Army crumbled in the face of an onslaught from the so-called Islamic State (IS) in June 2014.
And with the offensive looming in coming weeks, the jihadists are facing what could be the greatest blow to their vision of a caliphate that stretches from across North Africa, through the Middle East, to Pakistan...
The battle for Mosul may be just as pivotal for Iraq. Analysts say that seizure of the last major IS stronghold in the country – following government recapture of the cities of Tikrit, Ramadi, and, most recently, Fallujah in June – may also help change the narrative of a weak and helpless centralized state by convincing Iraqi citizens of a resurrected military capability.
On Sunday, Iraqi counterterrorism forces reached the east bank of the Tigris River in eastern Mosul, marking the first time Iraqi troops were able to reach the river since the massive military-backed operation to retake Mosul began in October.
Brett McGurk, Washington's envoy to the US-led coalition backing the Iraqi offensive, said in a tweet Sunday that the Islamic State's defenses in eastern Mosul were "showing signs of collapse."
"The terrorists will attempt to attack civilians in order to make up for their losses, but we assure the Iraqi people and the world that we are able to end terrorism and shorten its life," Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said last week after talks with visiting French President François Hollande, as Reuters reported.
This report includes material from the Associated Press and Reuters.