In first month after US exit, Iraq's sectarian clashes have killed 170

A series of bombings hit Baghdad today, killing 14. The violence in Iraq has claimed 170 lives already this year. 

Saad Shalash/Reuters
Residents gather at the site of a bomb attack in Sadr city in northeastern Baghdad on Tuesday. Four car bombs exploded in mainly Shiite Muslim areas of Baghdad on Tuesday, killing 14 people, bringing Iraq's 2012 death toll up to at least 170 people.

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 A series of bombings in Baghdad today killed 14 people, bringing Iraq's 2012 death toll up to at least 170 people less than a month into the country's first year without American troops on the ground since 2003.

The Associated Press reports that several explosive-laden cars were detonated in the neighborhoods of Sadr City and Shula and the district of Hurriya. Seventy people were wounded in the attacks, which all targeted predominantly Shiite areas.

The recent attacks are suspected of being a part of a campaign by Sunni insurgents targeting Shiite communities and Iraqi security forces in order to "undermine public confidence" in the Shiite-led government's ability to protect Iraqis without American troops to back them up, according to AP.

The Washington Post reports that, also today, gunmen killed Police Capt. Hassan Abdullah al Timimi and his family in their home, then set off two bombs as they left, according to a local pollice commander. 

According to Agence France-Presse, the Al Qaeda front group, the Islamic State of Iraq, vowed further attacks against Shiites in an online forum yesterday.

"The violent attacks against the Rawafid (the name used for Shiites by Sunni extremists) will continue," Al-Qaeda front group the Islamic State of Iraq said in a statement, while claiming responsibility for attacks on Shiite pilgrims over the past month.

"The lions of the Islamic State of Iraq (will not cease their operations)... as long as the Safavid government continues its war. We will spill rivers of their blood as reciprocity."

The jihadists often invoke Iran's Safavid past, referring to the Shiite dynasty that ruled Persia between the 16th and 18th centuries, and conquered part of Iraq, when denouncing the Baghdad government, which they say is controlled by Tehran.

AP downplays concerns about the campaign devolving into a new phase of sectarian war, but notes that the attacks come at a politically fragile time in Iraq. The Shiite-led government is locked in a political battle with the largest Sunni parliamentary bloc, which boycotted the government after the highest-ranking Sunni official, Vice President Tareq al Hashemi, was charged with terrorism.

Sunnis fear that without the American presence as a last-resort guarantor of a sectarian balance, the Shiite government will try to pick off their leaders one by one, as Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki tries to cement his own grip on power.

Last week, the leader of the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc, Ayad Allawi, accused Maliki of unfairly targeting Sunni officials and deliberately triggering a political crisis that is tearing Iraq apart. Mr. Allawi, who is a Shiite, said Iraq needs a new prime minister or new elections to prevent the country from disintegrating along sectarian lines. 

Last week, Allawi accused Maliki of detaining more than 1,000 members of other political parties in the last several months, detaining many of them in secret locations, and of using torture to get confessions out of them, McClatchy reports. According to Allawi, 42 members of his party (The Iraqi National Accord) alone have been detained in the sweeps, which were initially meant only for Saddam Hussein's Baath Party.

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