Seven car bombs exploded across Baghdad on Monday, killing at least 37 people and wounding scores of others, in what US and Iraqi officials said was a coordinated strike by al-Qaeda militants.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said the attacks were a “gift” from members of Saddam Hussein’s once omnipotent Baath party, aided by al-Qaeda. The 62nd anniversary of the pan-Arab nationalist party’s foundation in Syria fell yesterday.
“The seven car explosions are a gift from the buried Baath party in memory of its foundation, which was an evil omen for the Iraqi nation,” al-Maliki said in a statement.
A statement from Iraq’s Presidency Council, headed by President Jalal Talabani, expressed deep concern about the blasts and called for action from the security forces.
An explosion at a popular market in the Shiite Muslim slum of Sadr City in east Baghdad killed at least 12 people and wounded 65. Another car bomb blew up next to a group of laborers queuing for work, killing six people and wounding 17.
Hours later, south Baghdad’s Um al-Maalif neighborhood was shaken by two blasts in a market, killing 12 and wounding 32.
The latest attacks underscore the challenges Iraqi security forces face as US troops prepare to leave by the end of 2011.
Overall violence has fallen in Iraq to levels not seen since just after the 2003 US invasion, but militants, especially Sunni Islamist al-Qaeda, still carry out large-scale bombings. The last big bomb in Baghdad killed 20 people on March 26.
Preventing all car bombs in the crowded streets of Baghdad — a sprawling maze of crumbling buildings and concrete walls housing millions of people — is all but impossible.
Two other blasts shook a market area of Husseiniya, on Baghdad’s northern outskirts, killing four, and a street in eastern Baghdad, apparently targeting the convoy of an Interior Ministry official, killing two of his guards and a bystander.
“The explosion caused major damage to buildings and it even hurt some children,” shopkeeper Abdul-Jabar Saad said of that attack, which he witnessed. “God damn these people.”
Yet another blast later wounded two people at a south Baghdad vegetable market.
The attacks followed a week of arrests in Baghdad by Iraq’s Shiite-led government of Sunni Arab fighters known as Awakening Councils, or Majalis al-Sahwa in Arabic.
The Iraqi government insists it is only detaining those wanted for grave crimes, but the fighters — many of them former insurgents — fear it is settling sectarian scores.
The Sahwas first switched sides and joined with US forces to battle al-Qaeda in late 2006, manning checkpoints and conducting raids. Many have themselves been killed in insurgent attacks and US officials doubted they were behind these bombs.
“Our assessment is that the attacks today were a coordinated effort by al-Qaeda. There were no indicators that the [Sahwa fighters] ... were involved in any of the attacks,” US military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Philip Smith said.