Iraq violence: Baghdad car bombs kill at least 66

Firefighters were called to extinguish the blaze from a car bomb attack in Baghdad

At least 66 people have been killed in a series of car bombs targeting mainly Shia areas in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, police say.

Many more were wounded as at least a dozen explosions hit busy shopping areas and markets in the city.

There has been a recent marked rise in attacks in Iraq linked to growing political and sectarian tension.

It has raised fears of a return to the levels of sectarian violence seen in 2006 and 2007, in which thousands died.

Busy areas

Analysis

The bombs struck just a few hours after the Ministry of Interior released a statement saying that the violence in Iraq cannot be seen as sectarian in nature because the bombs do not distinguish between Sunnis and Shia.

Two weeks ago, 38 people were killed in a single attack targeting a Sunni mosque in eastern Iraq. Whoever is behind the attacks appears to be targeting different communities in turn, in order to maximise the perception that one attack is in response to the other.

Despite the persistent violence, there have been intensifying efforts on both sides of the divide to prevent a return to civil war.

On Monday, one bombing struck the busy commercial area of Sadoun Street in central Baghdad.

One bystander who saw that attack, Zein al-Abidin, said a four-year-old child was among the victims.

"What crime have those innocent people committed?" he asked.

Twin blasts in Habibiya, on the edge of the sprawling Shia area of Sadr City, killed 12 people. They went off close to used car dealerships, wrecking dozens of cars.

"Guards are here, and a car explodes here," shouted Fadhel Hanoun, according to AFP news agency.

A used car dealer, he said that not only had people died, but many had lost their savings, locked up in cars they had hoped to sell.

"How can we understand this?" he said. "This is a failed state."

Other neighbourhoods targeted included al-Maalif, where six people died, according to the Associated Press news agency.

Deadly blasts were also reported in the eastern New Baghdad area, Sabi al-Boor, Shaab, Hurriya, Bayaa, Sadria, Jisr Diyala, Baladiyat and Madain, about 20km (12 miles) south of the city centre.

'Discrimination' claim

No group has said it carried out the attacks, but Sunni militants linked to al-Qaeda have previously used co-ordinated explosions to target Shia Muslims, whom they regard as apostates.

Iraqis gather at the scene of a car bomb attack at a used cars dealers parking lot in Habibiya neighbourhood of eastern Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, 27 May The bombs destroy not only lives but livelihoods, Iraqis say

Tensions between the Shia Muslim majority, which leads the government, and minority Sunnis has been growing since last year.

Sunnis have accused the government of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki of discriminating against them - something the government denies.

Mr Maliki has vowed to make immediate changes to Iraq's security strategy, saying militants "will not be able to return us to the sectarian conflict".

Monday's bombings come a week after more than 70 people were killed and many others injured in a series of attacks across the country, in what was described as one of the worst days for sectarian violence in Iraq for several years.

Baghdad was worst hit, with several explosions at bus stations and markets in mainly Shia Muslim districts.

The UN says more than 700 people were killed in April, the highest monthly toll in almost five years.

Estimates put the number of deaths this month at more than 450.

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