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A series of bombings across Iraq killed at least 14 people today and injured hundreds, highlighting the protracted challenge of sectarian violence in a country that only recently emerged from war.
The attacks took place on the eve of the Muslim festival marking the start of the Islamic New Year. Muharram, as the holy month is called, is of particular importance on the Shiite Muslim religious calendar, reports the BBC. A majority of Iraq's population is Shiite, and its religious festivals have been targeted by violence in the past by Sunni extremists.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks, but AFP notes that “Al-Qaeda's front group in Iraq frequently carries out coordinated bombings and attempts mass-casualty attacks in a bid to destabilise the government through fomenting bloodshed.”
Security, or a lack of, is a common theme in Iraq, as the Shiite-dominated government continues to struggle with Sunni Islamists and Al Qaeda affiliates seeking to undermine it. Although US troops withdrew from the country nearly a year ago and the war is over, there has never been a successful reconciliation between Iraq's Sunnis and Shiites – nor is the government apt to seek one, the Monitor's Dan Murphy wrote after a similar spate of bombings this summer.
[Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki] has shown little interest in making concessions to his ideological opponents and has unsurprisingly been most interested in locking in a long period of dominance for his own confessional community. He hasn't exactly been subtle about it.
The good news for Maliki is that he's unlikely to lose the battle with Sunni insurgents. They remain a minority in Iraq, and Maliki's forces are better armed and far more numerous. The goal for Iraq's jihadis has all along been to drive the country into a vicious sectarian civil war, which they hope will create enough chaos to topple the government. But they actually succeeded in getting their wish in 2006, when the destruction of a revered Shiite shrine in Samarra unleashed the most vicious wave of sectarian massacres of the whole war. The result? Tens of thousands more dead, but ultimately Iraq's new Shiite government was more entrenched than ever.
The bad news for Iraq is something else again. It remains among the most violent countries on earth and while rich in oil, its economy remains moribund. International investors are not exactly rushing to place their bets on a country that is as corrupt as it is dangerous.
Today's deadliest attacks took place in the city of Kirkuk, about 175 miles north of Baghdad. The oil-rich region is home to Kurds, Arabs, and Turkomen, all of whom are competing to control Kirkuk, reports the Associated Press.
The first bomb detonated in a parked car near the Kurdish political party’s offices there this morning, and a second bomb exploded when medical personnel and rescuers arrived on the scene. Five were killed in what is often referred to as a “double bombing,” a well-known insurgent tactic, reports the AP.
Although violence across Iraq has dropped precipitously since its height in 2006 and 2007, September was the deadliest month in Iraq in the past two years, with a death toll of 365 people, according to Voice of America.
An hour after the first bombs in Kirkuk, another five people were killed by an explosion in a parked car near an Iraqi army patrol in the nearby city of Hawija, reports AP.
Some 60 miles south of Baghdad in the town of Hilla, another car bomb detonated. "A car bomb exploded near a secondary school for girls and a crowded poultry market, leaving four dead, including innocent students. It's a real vicious terrorist act," Hamza Kadhim, a local official in Hilla told Reuters.