Bombings across Iraq now touch on formerly safe havens

The rise in bombings across Baghdad and Iraqi Kurdistan threatens to match levels of violence not seen since the Iraqi insurgency in the late 2000s.

Ahmed Saad/REUTERS
People gather at the site of a car bomb attack in the Ur district of northeastern Baghdad, September 30, 2013. Car bombs exploded in several predominantly Shi'ite Muslim neighborhoods of Baghdad on Monday, killing at least 54 people and wounding dozens, police and medical sources said.

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A rash of car bombs killed dozens across Baghdad on Monday, the latest in a series of deadly bombings that have racked Iraq over the past several days. The violence has brought the country's civilian death toll to its worst level since 2008.

Al Jazeera reports that nine car bombs killed at least 24 people and wounded scores more, largely in the Iraqi capital's Shiite neighborhoods.

The bombs hit eight different areas on Monday, the deadliest blast tore through a small vegetable market and its car park, killing seven people including two soldiers and wounding sixteen others, a police officer said.

That was followed by four parked car bombs, which went off in quick succession in the neighbourhoods of New Baghdad, Habibiya, Sabaa al-Bour and Kazimiyah - all striking outdoor markets or car parks.

Media reports put the casualty figures at a minimum of 24 dead and 75 wounded to at least 40 killed and more than 170 injured.

Monday's bombings follow several attacks over the weekend in Baghdad. On Sunday, a suicide bombing at a Shiite mosque in the city of Musayyib, about 50 miles south of Baghdad, left 47 dead. And the Kurdish city of Erbil, which had largely been devoid of the violence affecting the rest of the country, saw a series of bombings on Sunday that killed six security officers, according to Kurd news outlet Rudaw.

Although no one has claimed responsibility for the attacks in Baghdad, BBC News reports that "Sunni Muslim insurgents have been blamed for much of the most recent violence."

The upsurge was triggered in April by an army raid on a Sunni Muslim anti-government protest camp near Hawija, north of Baghdad.

Many in the country's Sunni Muslim minority complain of being excluded from decision-making and abuses by the security forces. Recent raids in Baghdad on suspected al-Qaeda hideouts in mainly Sunni districts are thought to have worsened grievances.

Similarly, Sunday's attacks in Erbil went unclaimed by any particular group, but The New York Times reports that "much of the speculation surrounding the motivation for the attack centered on Syria, where Kurdish militias, some of them supported and trained by the security forces in Iraqi Kurdistan, have been fighting against jihadist groups linked to Al Qaeda."

“We all know that Kurdistan is part of an unstable region, and security breaches sometimes happen even in developed countries, and I think that what is happening in Syria has something to do with today’s explosions,” said Shwan Taha, a Kurdish member of Iraq’s Parliament in Baghdad....

Iraq’s Qaeda affiliate has gained strength across the country, but particularly in the northern city of Mosul, not far from the border with Iraqi Kurdistan, leading to speculation that groups there could have been behind the bombings.

The Times adds that the Erbil attacks were remarkable less for their relatively low casualties than for the location, which had been "a haven of relative security and prosperity compared with the rest of the country." Not a single US soldier was killed in Iraqi Kurdistan during the Iraq war, according to the Times.

But the rise in violence, both in Erbil and across the rest of Baghdad, is threatening to match levels not seen since the heyday of the Iraqi insurgency in the late 2000s. The BBC reports that the death toll in recent months puts the number of people killed in Iraq this year at between 4,000 and 5,000 people. According to UN figures, there have been 4,137 civilians deaths in 2013 – by far the worst tally since 2008, when the death toll numbered 6,787.

The Christian Science Monitor reported earlier this month that many Iraqis feel the civil war never really ended, and that the recent surge in violence is evidence of the sectarian divide still plaguing the country – as well as the government's inability to unite Iraq's Sunnis and Shiites.

Sunnis have long voiced concerns about exclusion from the post-Saddam Hussein government. Last winter thousands gathered to protest what they see as an effort, led by [Iraqi President Nouri al-Maliki], to consolidate Shiite power.

“The very weak efforts for reconciliation have failed,” says Maysoon Al-Damluji, a member of parliament. “A large portion of Iraqis, mainly Sunnis, feel that they have been disenfranchised…. I see Iraq dismantling and I think the reason is that there was no intention to bring together all Iraqi factions to make plans for the future.”

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