Scores killed and injured in violence across Iraq
Militants launched attacks on security forces and Shiite Muslim civilians across Iraq on Monday, killing nearly 100 people in a spree of shootings and bombings that rattled the country and worsened tensions among its political elite.
At least 92 Iraqis were killed and more than 300 were injured. The number of dead and wounded rose steadily in the evening as reports trickled in from Mosul in the north, Basra in the far south and points in between. News channels broadcast familiar images of weeping women cloaked in black abayas, mangled vehicles and pools of water tinged with blood.
It was the worst day of political violence in Iraq since Dec. 8, when insurgent bombings in Baghdad killed at least 127 people. No one claimed responsibility, but the choice of targets and the coordinated nature suggested an operation by the militant group Al Qaeda in Iraq and sometimes-allied Sunni Arab insurgent groups.
There has been an increase in violence after the inconclusive March 7 elections that have stirred sectarian tensions and threatened the dramatic security improvements of the last 30 months. The Obama administration plans to pull all but 50,000 U.S. troops from Iraq by September even as it is accused by conservatives in Washington of not doing enough to stabilize the country.
Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s Shiite alliance narrowly lost the elections to a Sunni-supported slate led by one of his predecessors in office, Iyad Allawi, a secular Shiite. Critics have accused Maliki of violating the spirit of the country’s democratic experiment by initiating legal maneuvers in an effort to retain his post, and Allawi’s allies quickly blamed Maliki’s government and his political machinations for the surge in violence.
Maliki and his allies have accused members of Allawi’s bloc of inflaming sectarian passions with their rhetoric.
The violence Monday suggested that the Sunni insurgency retains potency despite the killing last month of two senior Al Qaeda leaders. Iraqi security forces also arrested two suspected Al Qaeda members and four associates during security operations throughout the country on Monday, the U.S. military said in a news release.
The deadliest of Monday’s bombings targeted a textile factory in the predominantly Shiite town of Hillah, 60 miles south of Baghdad, during a shift change. At least 32 workers and passersby were killed, and more than 136 people were injured.
In Basra, which also is mostly Shiite, assailants struck a market for bicycles and motorcycles and a gas station in a residential area north of the city populated by supporters of Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr. At least 21 people were killed and 66 wounded in the two attacks, possibly the worst violence in the impoverished provincial capital since 2007. Security forces in the city halted vehicle traffic and imposed a curfew in Zubayr, a Sunni region and previous stronghold of the insurgency.
Maliki’s allies said the insurgents would fail to shake the political process.
“We obviously condemn these horrible crimes committed by Al Qaeda and the remnants of the previous regime,” said Sheik Ali Allaq, a leader of Maliki’s Islamic Dawa Party. “Such incidents aim to deter the political process or to even collapse it. They are attempts to bring chaos back to the country and impose political instability. Such attacks are triggered to foil all the meetings and agreements made between the political blocs, but they will not succeed.”
But even the Maliki government’s security forces acknowledged that Iraq’s political crisis was creating opportunities for insurgents, and that a resolution would help lock in security gains.
“There is a well-known agenda of Al Qaeda in the Iraqi arena, which is an attempt to shuffle the cards and use some gaps resulting from political problems,” Maj. Gen. Qassim Atta Moussawi, spokesman for Baghdad security operations, told the Dubai-based Al Arabiya news channel. “When progress is achieved in the negotiations in Baghdad it has a positive effect on the situation.”
But Allawi’s allies said the government was partly responsible for the violence.
“The government has failed at national reconciliation,” said Maysoon Damluji, spokeswoman for Allawi’s Iraqiya bloc, in a telephone interview. “It has also failed in international and regional relations. And it has failed in creating security forces capable of standing up to these insurgents.”
Allaq called on political rivals to “come together without making any criticism of each other,” adding that the “killing of innocent people is only blamed on Al Qaeda and no one else.”
The violence cut across a large swath of Iraq. In Baghdad, insurgents throughout the day targeted at least a dozen police and army checkpoints, ubiquitous throughout Baghdad, in apparently coordinated bombings and shootings, sometimes opening fire with guns equipped with silencers, police said.
All told, at least 23 people, including at least 10 soldiers and police officers, were killed and 55 were wounded in the attacks on Baghdad and the suburb of Abu Ghraib, where bombs struck a market and the homes of a police commander and a merchant.
Another car bomb targeting the public market in the mostly Shiite town of Suwayrah, 30 miles south of the capital, killed 11 and injured dozens, police said.
In Hillah, three people were killed in three other bombings targeting an army patrol, a shop and a bus terminal, according to civil defense officials.
In the northern city of Mosul, a car bombing at a checkpoint killed two soldiers and injured four. There were also attacks causing injuries in the northern shrine city of Samarra, where a 2006 bombing of a Shiite holy site intensified sectarian violence, and a marketplace in Mahmoudiya, a mostly Shiite district south of the capital.
Times staff writer Caesar Ahmed and special correspondents in Baghdad, Hillah and Irbil contributed to this report.