19 Mar 2013

Baghdad bombings kill dozens on Iraq war anniversary

More than 50 people are feared dead after a wave of car bombings in Shi’ite areas of Baghdad on the tenth anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq.

Photographs in the report above by Sebastian Meyer

One car bomb exploded in a busy Baghdad market, three detonated in the Shi’ite district of Sadr City, and another near the entrance of the heavily fortified Green Zone that sent a plume of dark smoke into the air alongside the river Tigris.

A suicide bomber in a truck attacked a police base in a Shi’ite town south of the capital, officials said.

Sunni Islamist insurgents linked to al-Qaeda are said to be regaining ground in Iraq, invigorated by the war next door in Syria, and have stepped up attacks on Shi’ite targets in an attempt to provoke a wider sectarian confrontation.

“I was driving my taxi and suddenly I felt my car rocked. Smoke was all around. I saw two bodies on the ground. People were running and shouting everywhere,” said Ali Radi, a taxi driver caught in one of the blasts in Sadr City.

Read more: Fifteen faces of the war in Iraq - what happened next?

‘Cowardly attacks’

A decade after US and western troops swept Saddam from power, Iraq still struggles with insurgents, sectarian friction and political feuds among Shi’ite, Sunni and Kurdish factions who share power in the government.

Commenting on the latest attacks Foreign Secretary, William Hague said: “I condemn today’s cowardly attacks in Baghdad. The vast majority of Iraqis want to leave behind the violence of the past to build a peaceful and prosperous country, and the UK Government will continue to support them to do so.

“At this time in particular, we remember all those – British, Iraqi and others – who lost their lives in conflict in Iraq. We also recognise the sacrifices and determination of the Iraqi people, to overcome terrorism, conflict and division, and reassert our commitment to help Iraq as it rebuilds for the future.”

Elections postponed

In a sign of concern over security, the cabinet postponed local elections in two provinces, Anbar and Nineveh, for up to six months because of threats to electoral workers and violence there, according to Maliki’s media adviser Ali al-Moussawi. The polls will go ahead elsewhere on 20 April.

No group claimed responsibility for the Baghdad blasts, but Islamic State of Iraq, a wing of al-Qaeda, has vowed to take back ground lost in its war with US troops. This year the group has carried out a string of high-profile attacks.

Violence is still below the bloody height of the sectarian slaughter that killed tens of thousands after Sunni Islamists bombed the Shi’ite al-Askari shrine in 2006, provoking a wave of retaliation by Shi’ite militias.

But security officials say al-Qaeda’s local wing is regrouping in the vast desert of Anbar province bordering Syria, and suicide bombers have carried out attacks nearly twice a week since January, a rate not seen for several years in Iraq.

Further complicating security, thousands of Sunni protesters are also rallying in Anbar against Maliki, whose Shi’ite-led government they accuse of marginalising their minority sect since the fall of Sunni strongman Saddam.