At least 48 people were killed Thursday when a car bomb exploded next to a funeral tent in a Shiite Muslim neighborhood of Baghdad, police said, as a fresh wave of violence continued in Iraq.
The explosion was the fifth major attack in the last 10 days, leaving a death toll of nearly 200 people. The relentless pace of bombings was something the country has not seen in more than two years.
Violence has returned with a vengeance for the first time since November, when a deal was announced to form a new government ending months of political paralysis. The attacks have hit both Shiite and Sunni communities north, south and east of Baghdad, but the nation’s capital had been untouched until Thursday.
At least 121 people were wounded in the attack in Baghdad’s Shula district, police said, which targeted mourners gathered at the funeral tent of a Shiite tribal sheik.
“A stranger came and parked his car, and he left by one of the side streets. As you know Shula is a big district, so he ran into one of those alleys,” a witness who requested anonymity said, adding that minutes later the explosion occurred.
The attack damaged four homes near the tent and set fire to about a dozen cars. Crowds furious over the killings skirmished with security forces and gunshots were heard, according to people in the area. The crowds set two Iraqi army Humvees on fire, a police officer said. People shouted slogans calling for the sacking of the local Iraqi military commander.
One person visiting Shula said some people in the crowd belonged to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr’s movement and that after the attack his followers had blocked some streets to check entering cars.
Despite the swearing-in of the government in late December, Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has yet to name interior and defense ministers due to the festering mistrust between himself and his chief rival, former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. There are no indications that the sides are close to reaching a deal on the posts, and in fact talks appear stalled and any goodwill has evaporated as both camps dig in and refuse to compromise.
The spate of bombings has drawn only greater attention to the new government’s dysfunction and fanned popular frustrations.
“There is a conspiracy to kill all Iraqi civilians; they don’t want us to live,” said Mutashar Saidi, whose father died in the blast, as he waited by a local hospital. “Where is this army’s strength? There was a checkpoint not far from the funeral tent. These military forces are doing nothing other than fighting for promotions.”
Saidi warned the attack would be felt across the district of Shula and referred to the death of the Shiite saint Imam Hussein. Recent holidays marking his death anniversary and 40-day mourning period were marred by two bombings that killed dozens.
“Everybody lost someone in today’s attack,” Saidi said. “They killed Imam Hussein in the past, and today they killed the whole district of Shula.”
The question remained of who was responsible for the attack in Shula. Though Sunni extremists have been widely blamed, some U.S. military officials and Iraqi political insiders speculated that some of the attacks were linked to Shiite armed factions.
In recent months there has been a low-level street war between Sadr’s followers and a splinter group called Asa’ib al Haq, said a senior U.S. military officer, who warned the two recent bombings in the Shiite shrine city of Karbala could be linked to any number of Shiite factions.
Jaff is a Times staff writer.