A string of attacks, including three car bombings in and around Baghdad, killed at least 22 people on Tuesday, deepening fears of a surge in violence as sectarian tensions fester in Iraq.
Although there was no immediate claim of responsibility, blame is likely to fall on Sunni insurgents, such as al-Qaeda’s local franchise, because the group often uses indiscriminate attacks to sow fear among Iraq’s Shiite majority and undermine the government’s authority.
It was at least the fourth day this year that insurgents overcame security measures to carry out high-profile attacks claiming at least 20 lives. Over a two-day stretch alone last week, a series of what appeared to be coordinated bombings and other strikes killed nearly 60 people.
The upsurge in violence has coincided with a wave of Sunni-led protests against Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite-led government over what they see as unfair treatment of their sect.
Tuesday’s attacks began when a parked car exploded at a security checkpoint in Mahmoudiya, about 30km south of the Iraqi capital. The blast killed five people, including two soldiers manning the checkpoint, and wounded 15, police said.
A second car bomb, this one detonated by a suicide attacker, went off near a checkpoint in the northern Baghdad suburb of Taji, killing seven people and wounding 26.
Nasseer Rahman, a 35-year-old teacher, said he was sitting in a minibus waiting to pass the checkpoint when the bomb exploded.
“The useless checkpoint was the reason for the high casualties because dozens of cars were backed up in long lines before [it] got hit,” he said.
Later in the day, another parked car loaded with explosives blew up in the predominantly Shiite neighborhood of Shula in northwestern Baghdad, killing five and wounding 15, police said.
Medics at a nearby hospital confirmed the casualties.
Elsewhere, gunmen killed two government employees and three guards as they were transporting salaries between oil facilities near Beiji, about 250km north of Baghdad.
Police have launched a manhunt for the assailants, who made off with the money, Beiji Mayor Abid al-Awadh said.
Al-Qaeda and other insurgent groups occasionally carry out robberies to finance further attacks.
The violence comes amid rising ethnic and sectarian tension following the arrest last month of bodyguards assigned to Sunni Minister of Finance Rafia al-Issawi.
The detentions sparked a wave of demonstrations across the Sunni-dominated Anbar Province and other Sunni parts of the country. The protesters demand the release of detainees and want to overturn policies, including a tough counterterrorism law, that they believe unfairly target their sect.
Al-Maliki earlier this month set up a government committee charged with looking into the protesters’ demands. Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Hussain al-Shahristani on Tuesday said that more than 1,000 inmates have already been set free.