Dozens killed in co-ordinated Baghdad attacks

Eyewitness Abdallah: "I woke up to a huge impact"

Dozens of people have been killed in a wave of apparently co-ordinated bomb attacks in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.

A fresh attack killed at least five people on Thursday evening, bringing the total number of blasts to 16 and the death toll to 68.

The bombings are the worst in months and come after US troops completed their withdrawal.

There are fears of rising sectarian tensions as the unity government faces internal divisions.

It was not immediately clear who was behind the attacks, however analysts say the level of co-ordination suggests a planning capability only available to al-Qaeda in Iraq, which is a mainly Sunni insurgent group.

The US said it strongly condemned the attacks.

'Children's schools'

In the latest attack, a roadside bomb and then a car bomb exploded outside a cafe in south-west Baghdad, police said.

Analysis

With US forces barely out of the country there is a danger that Iraq's fragile political consensus could unravel along communal lines.

Always an uneasy amalgam of Shia, Sunni and Kurdish groupings, the political arrangements instituted in the wake of the Americans' toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime are now under pressure like never before.

It is hard to know exactly who is behind the current wave of bombings in Baghdad. But in a curious way the violence plays into the hands of all factions seeking to gain from the growing sense of crisis.

Inevitably this crisis is interpreted in some quarters as an effort by the dominant Shia faction to settle scores with its Sunni rivals. Iran is seen by many analysts as operating behind the scenes to bolster the Shia position.

Iran may well be an interested party but this is a genuinely Iraqi crisis fuelled by the diverging political ambitions of Iraqi leaders.

The earlier attacks, most of which took place in the morning, hit various locations, including al-Amil in the south and Halawi and Karrada closer to the centre, according to the interior ministry.

At least 185 were injured in those blasts, which took place as many people were travelling to work during the morning rush-hour, destroying nearby buildings and shops and damaging cars.

Four car-bombs and 10 improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were detonated, officials told the BBC.

A security spokesman in Baghdad, Maj Gen Qassim Atta, said the attacks had not been aimed at security targets.

"They targeted children's schools, day workers and the anti-corruption agency," he told AFP news agency.

Raghad Khalid, a teacher at a kindergarten in Karrada, said the children were "scared and crying". "Some parts of the car bomb are inside our building," he added.

"These blasts occurred because of conflicts among politicians," one Baghdad resident, Abu Ali, said. "We call upon all politicians to resolve their problems and leave people to live in security."

Sectarian tension

Iraq's year-old power-sharing government is in turmoil after an arrest warrant was issued for Sunni Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi on terror charges.

The entire al-Iraqiyya group, the main Sunni bloc in parliament, is boycotting the assembly in protest. It accuses Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, a Shia, of monopolising power.

Mr Hashemi denies the charges. He is currently in Irbil in Iraqi Kurdistan, under the protection of the regional government, but Mr Maliki has demanded that they give him up.

Recent attacks in Iraq

  • 5 December - At least 30 killed in attacks targeting Shia pilgrims in central Iraq
  • 27 October - 38 killed, 78 injured in twin bomb blasts in a Shia area of Baghdad
  • 12 October - 28 killed by car bombs and roadside bombs around Baghdad
  • 15 August - At least 60 killed in co-ordinated attacks in several Iraqi cities

The BBC's Jim Muir says most Shias will conclude that Iraq's disaffected Sunni leadership was behind the latest violence.

There is a strong possibility, he says, that insurgents on the Sunni side were just waiting for the most tense moment to unleash attacks they had been planning.

In response to Thursday's bombings, Prime Minister Maliki said the attackers should not be allowed to have an impact on the political process.

"The timing of these crimes and their locations confirm once again to any doubters the political nature of the goals that those criminals want to achieve," he said.

Iyad Allawi, the head of the al-Iraqiyya bloc condemned the attacks, but blamed the government for leaving people out of the political process.

The last American troops departed from Iraq on Sunday, nearly nine years after the war that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.

In a statement, the White House condemned the attacks, which it said served "no agenda other than murder and hatred", and offered its condolences.

The BBC's Jonny Dymond says the US still has a vast diplomatic presence in Iraq, and has made a heavy investment in its future - but that Afghanistan, Iran, and North Korea are now the most pressing foreign policy issues for the US.

He says the bombs are a painful reminder for Americans about the damaged country they leave behind.

But, he says, the US is now looking at Iraq through the rear view mirror.

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