Tuesday 20 March 2018

More than 100 killed in Iraq in deadliest day for two years

A policeman stands guard at the site of a bomb attack in Kirkuk
A policeman stands guard at the site of a bomb attack in Kirkuk

More than 100 people were killed in a wave of bombings and shootings across Iraq, as the country suffered its worst day of violence for two years.

An attack by gunmen on an army post at Dhuluiya, 45 miles north of Baghdad, in which 16 soldiers were shot dead or killed by grenades, heralded a series of bombings across the country.

Car bombs hit Sadr City in Baghdad, a large, poor Shia neighbourhood which is a regular target for sectarian killing, Hussainiya, another Shia suburb, the towns of Taji and Khan Bani Saad just to the north of the city, and Kirkuk, a city in the north contested by Arabs, Kurds and minority populations. Insurgents mounted a total of at least 27 different attacks in at least 18 cities, security and medical officials said. Officials reported at least 107 people killed by Monday afternoon, with more than 200 wounded.

William Hague, the foreign secretary, condemned the attacks.

"I offer my deepest condolences to the families of those who lost their lives," he said. "My thoughts are with them and with the many who have been injured at this terrible time.

"Coming at the start of the holy month of Ramadan, a time of peaceful reflection and prayer, these attacks demonstrate an appalling disregard for human life. We will continue to support the government of Iraq in its efforts to defeat terrorism, and to provide security for all Iraqis."

The combination attack is a signature al-Qaeda tactic in the country, and demonstrates that despite a lessening of violence overall and claims that some of its fighters have travelled over the border to Syria the organisation can still pull off regular "spectaculars".

Despite being largely brought under control by an alliance of American force and local tribal militias in the years before US troops withdrew from Iraq, the local al-Qaeda franchise has maintained the ability to strike every three to four weeks. Last month, 72 people were killed on one day during a series of bombings timed to coincide with a Shia religious festival.

At the weekend, the group posted a rare statement online saying it was "returning to strongholds" from which it withdrew during the US campaign against it, suggesting it felt more confident since the final pull-out of American troops in December.

"The majority of the Sunnis in Iraq support al-Qaeda and are waiting for its return," the statement, signed with the nom de guerre of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The attack on Taji caused the highest casualty toll on Monday. In another trademark al-Qaeda tactic, a series of car bombs attracted the emergency services, which were then hit by a suicide bombing. At least 42 people were killed.


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