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At least 66 killed as violence surges back in Iraq

Car bomb attack in Baghdad
Iraqis survey the damage at the scene of a car bomb attack in the Shaab neighborhood of northern Baghdad.
(Ali Abbas / EPA)

BAGHDAD — A coordinated wave of bombings tore through Shiite Muslim areas in and around the Iraqi capital early Wednesday, part of a wave of bloodshed that killed at least 66 people and wounded many more, officials said.

The blasts, which came in quick succession, mainly targeted residents out shopping and on their way to work. In addition to the bombings, the death toll included seven Shiite family members killed when gunmen raided their home and shot them as they slept.

The attacks are the latest in a relentless wave of killings that has left thousands dead since April, marking the country’s worst spate of bloodshed since 2008. Coordinated waves of car bombs have hit Baghdad repeatedly each month, sometimes as often as twice per week.

The violence raises fears that Iraq is hurtling back toward the brink of a civil war fueled by ethnic and sectarian differences.

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On Wednesday, insurgents deployed explosives-laden cars, suicide bombers and other strategies, targeting parking lots, outdoor markets and restaurants in predominantly Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad, according to officials. A military convoy was also hit south of the capital.

Security forces sealed off the bomb scenes as ambulances raced to pick up the wounded. The twisted wreckage of cars littered the pavement, while shop owners brushed away the debris. At one restaurant, the floor was stained with blood and dishes were scattered on plastic tables.

The northern neighborhood of Kadhimiya, home to a prominent gold-domed Shiite shrine, was the worst hit. Two bombs went off in a parking lot, followed by a suicide car bomber who struck onlookers who had gathered at the scene. Police said 10 people were killed and 27 wounded in that attack.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the day’s attacks, but they bore the hallmarks of the Iraqi branch of Al Qaeda. The group frequently targets Shiites, which it considers heretics, and employs coordinated bombings in an attempt to incite sectarian strife.

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The Shiite family shot dead at home were found in the largely Sunni town of Latifiyah, about 18 miles south of Baghdad. Three children, ages 8 to 12, were killed along with their parents and two uncles, according to police.

Authorities said the family had previously fled the town after being threatened, and returned only three weeks ago.

The violence follows months of protests by Iraq’s Sunni minority against the Shiite-led government that began late last year. Attacks have been on the rise since a deadly crackdown by security forces on a Sunni protest in April, while the increasingly sectarian nature of the civil war in neighboring Syria is inflaming Iraq’s own long-festering sectarian differences.

In response, clerics and other influential Shiite and Sunni leaders have called for restraint, and security forces have tried to ratchet up counter-insurgency operations.

More than 500 people have been killed so far in August, according to an Associated Press count.

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