Bombs ripped through Sunni areas in Baghdad and surrounding areas on Friday, killing at least 76 people in the deadliest day in Iraq in more than eight months. The major spike in sectarian bloodshed heightened fears the country could again be veering toward civil war.
The attacks followed two days of bombings targeting Shiites, including bus stops and outdoor markets, with a total of 130 people killed since Wednesday.
Scenes of bodies sprawled across a street outside a mosque and mourners killed during a funeral procession were reminiscent of some of the worst days of retaliatory warfare between the Islamic sects that peaked in 2006-2007 as US forces battled extremists on both sides.
Tensions have been intensifying since Sunnis began protesting what they say is mistreatment at the hands of the Shiite-led government, including random detentions and neglect. The protests, which began in December last year, have largely been peaceful, but the number of attacks rose sharply after a deadly security crackdown on a Sunni protest camp in northern Iraq on April 23.
Majority Shiites control the levers of power in Iraq following the death of president Saddam Hussein. Wishing to rebuild the nation rather than revert to open warfare, they have largely restrained their militias in the past five years or so as Sunni extremist groups such as al-Qaeda have frequently targeted them with large-scale attacks.
Nobody claimed responsibility for Friday’s attacks, but the fact they occurred in mainly Sunni areas raised suspicion that Shiite militants were involved.
The bombs also were largely planted in the areas, as opposed to the car bombings and suicide attacks that al-Qaeda in Iraq and other Sunni insurgents are known to use.
The areas hit on Friday were all former Sunni insurgent strongholds that saw some of the fiercest fighting of the US-led war as sectarian rivalries nearly tore the country apart.
The deadliest blast struck worshipers as they were leaving the main Sunni mosque in Baqubah, 60km northeast of Baghdad. Another explosion went off shortly afterward as people gathered to help the wounded, leaving 41 dead and 56 wounded, according to police and hospital officials.
Baqubah was the site of some of the fiercest fighting between US forces and insurgents. Al-Qaeda in Iraq essentially controlled the area for years, defying numerous US offensives aimed at restoring control. It also is the capital of Diyala Province, a religiously mixed area that saw some of the worst atrocities as Shiite militias battled Sunni insurgents for control.
A roadside bomb exploded later on Friday during a Sunni funeral procession in Madain, about 20km south of Baghdad, killing eight mourners and wounding 11, police said. Two medical officials confirmed the casualties.
Another blast struck a cafe in Fallujah, 65km west of Baghdad, killing two people and wounding nine, according to police and hospital officials.
In Baghdad, a bomb exploded near a shopping center during the evening rush hour in the mainly Sunni neighborhood of Amariyah, killing 21 people and wounding 32. That was followed by another bomb in a commercial district in Dora, another Sunni neighborhood, which killed four people and wounded 22, according to officials.
It was the deadliest day since Sept. 9 last year, when 92 people were killed, according to an Associated Press tally.
The attacks on Sunnis came after two days of car bombs targeting Shiite areas in Baghdad and other attacks that left 33 dead on Wednesday and 21 dead on Thursday.
The violence against a Sunni house of worship represented a trend that has been on the rise. About 30 Sunni mosques have been attacked from mid-April to mid-May, killing more than 100 worshipers.