Dozens killed and scores more injured as Sunni extremists target Shia civilians in series of blasts across Baghdad
Peter Beaumont in Baghdad
March 19,2013 (thegurardian) Baghdad was convulsed by a deadly wave of explosions as terrorists detonated up to nine explosions in the course of a few hours on Tuesday morning on the 10th anniversary of the US-led invasion.
Early reports suggested that at least 34 people were killed and dozens more wounded as car bombs hit Shia areas, including a mosque and a restaurant across the city.
At the ministry of the interior in central Baghdad, the Guardian heard one explosion in the distance, followed by a rising plume of smoke. Helicopters could be seen hovering above the scene.
An hour later, in another part of the city, a second blast was audible and another column of smoke a half a mile or so away, this time from an attack in Karrada,.
The first bombing took place near a small restaurant in Baghdad’s Mashtal neighbourhood, killing four people and wounding 15 at 8am.
Minutes later, two day labourers were killed and eight were wounded when a roadside bomb targeted where they gather each day in an area of New Baghdad.
One eyewitness to the first bombing, who had just arrived at work at 8am, told the Guardian: “It was a huge explosion at the junction close to where my office was, close to a restaurant. I heard the bomb go off in an area which is crowded at this time of day.”
A policeman who gave his name only as Ahmed, who was on duty near the scene of another of the explosions, told the Guardian. “It was about 300 metres from me, near where I was on duty in Karrada. It was a car bomb parked by the road close to a place where minibuses park.”
The attacks on the 10th anniversary of the first air strikes of the Iraq war, on 19 March 2003, which targeted the Dora Farms where it was thought Saddam Hussein was visiting, have underlined the still bitter sectarian tensions in Iraq.
Ten years ago on Tuesday also marked President George W Bush’s announcement in the US of the start of the invasion, with troops crossing the border with Kuwait in force the following day.
Tuesday morning’s blasts hit largely Shia areas where people were gathering for work or start the day, including small restaurants and bus stops in the Iraqi capital. At least six attacks occurred within an hour.
Although the anniversary of the fall of Saddam is marked by the government, the day of the invasion is generally ignored by Iraqis, many of whom regard it as the beginning of an occupation that prompted the “sectarian war”, which pitted Sunni against Shia for five years of brutal bloodletting.
While there was no immediate claim of responsibility, the attacks bore the hallmarks of al-Qaida in Iraq.
While violence in Iraq has receded in recent years since 2008, tensions have been rising again fanned by Sunni protests over equal rights and human rights abuses in northern and western provinces, in particular in Fallujah.
Analysts have blamed the slow response of the Shia-dominated Iraqi government to the protests for a resurgence in al-Qaida in Iraq, which, some claim, has boosted the number of new terror recruits.
In the sprawling Shia suburb of Sadr City, a sticky bomb placed under a minibus killed three commuters and wounded seven people, while another car bomb exploded in a commercial street in the same Shia area, killing two and wounding 11.
In the north-eastern suburbs of Baghdad, four people were killed and 11 others wounded after a car bomb went off near a small restaurant in Hussainiyah neighbourhood.
In Zafarniyah, two car bombs exploded near a police station, killing five people, including a policeman and wounding 27, said police. In northern Baghdad, a car bomb went off near a bus stop, killing three people and wounding 13.
In the city centre, a car bomb exploded near a restaurant close to the well-protected green zone, killing six people, including two soldiers and wounding more than 15. In Shulla, a car bomb exploded near an outdoor market, killing five people and wounding 21.
In response to the wave of attacks, the prime minister, Nouri al Maliki, announced he was delaying the holding of provincial elections – due in April – in Anbar and Nineveh provinces that have been at the heart of a three-month-long Sunni uprising that has partly driven recent tensions in Iraq.