Iraq on the brink after 72 killed in bombings
MORE than 70 people were killed yesterday as insurgents intent on dragging Iraq into sectarian turmoil unleashed a wave of bombings on Shi'ite Muslim strongholds.
The second devastating attack in a fortnight exposed the country's religious faultlines amidst a political crisis that has pitted Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq's Shi'ite prime minister, against his Sunni rivals.
On a day of carnage, the single deadliest attack came in the desert near the southern city of Nasiriya, where a suicide bomber detonated an explosive vest in the middle of a crowd of devout Shi'ites on a pilgrimage. At least 45 people were killed in the attack, police said.
A few hours earlier five bombs exploded in quick succession 200 miles to the northwest.
Two devices were detonated in Kadhimiya, killing 17 and wounding 32. Another two struck the sprawling slum of Sadr City, where at least 10 people died, bringing the countrywide death toll to 72.
The Iraqi authorities did not immediately attribute blame for the attacks, but suspicion is likely to focus on Sunni extremist groups linked to al-Qa'ida.
One such outfit claimed responsibility for attacks on Shi'ite areas of Baghdad on December 22 that also killed 72 people.
One of the bombs in Sadr City was left on a motorcycle near a queue of labourers lining up for work. As rescuers rushed to the scene, a second device exploded. The upsurge of violence since US troops completed their withdrawal from Iraq last month has renewed fears that a civil war so narrowly averted four years ago is threatening once more.
The attacks, which bore the hallmarks of Sunni insurgents, come ahead of a Shi'ite holy day that draws hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from across Iraq.
Rifts along the country's Sunni-Shi'ite faultline just a few years ago pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war.
Some Iraqis blame that political discord for the lethal strikes.
"We hold the government responsible for these attacks. They (the politicians) are bickering over their seats and these poor people are killed in these blasts," said Baghdad resident Ali Qassim not long after the first bomb went off.
The attacks began during Baghdad's morning rush hour when explosions struck the capital's largest Shi'ite neighbourhood of Sadr City and another district that contains a Shi'ite shrine, killing at least 30 people, according to police.
The blasts occurred in the run-up to Arbaeen, a holy day that marks the end of 40 days of mourning following the anniversary of the death of Imam Hussein, a revered Shi'ite figure. During this time, Shi'ite pilgrims -- many on foot -- make their way across Iraq to Karbala, south of Baghdad.
Co-ordinated attacks aimed at Shi'ites are a tactic frequently used by Sunni insurgents. (© The Daily Telegraph, London)