BAGHDAD: A wave of car bombings targeting those celebrating the end of Ramadan across Iraq killed 69 people Saturday, a bloody reminder of the inability of Iraqi authorities to stop violence threatening to spiral out of control.
Violence has been on the rise across Iraq since a deadly crackdown by government forces on a Sunni protest camp in April, and attacks against civilians and security forces notably spiked during Ramadan. The surge of attacks has sparked fears that the country could see a new round of widespread sectarian bloodshed similar to that which brought the country to the edge of civil war in 2006 and 2007.
The bloodshed also comes after Iraqi security forces promised to step up efforts to increase security to protect the public during the Eid al-Fitr celebrations that mark the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. This year’s Ramadan was the most violence since 2007, with 671 people killed.
“My shop’s windows were smashed and smoke filled the whole area,” said shoe shop owner Saif Mousa, who survived an attack near his store in New Baghdad. “I went outside of the shop and I could hardly see because of the smoke. … At the end, we had a terrible day that was supposed to be nice because of Eid.”
Many of the attacks occurred within an hour of each other, suggesting a level of coordination in the assaults. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks, though security forces and civilians are frequently targeted by al-Qaida’s Iraq branch.
U.S. Department of State spokeswoman Jen Psaki condemned the attacks, saying in a statement that they are similar to suicide and vehicle bomb attacks in the country in the past month-and-a-half conducted by al-Qaida’s Iraq branch.
The group is led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and al-Baghdadi has taken personal credit for a series of terrorist attacks in Iraq since 2011, including an attack against the Abu Ghraib prison, Psaki said.
The U.S. has offered a $10 million reward for information leading to his capture or death and the reward is second only to information leading to Ayman al-Zawahiri, the chief of the Al Qaeda network.
“The terrorists who committed these acts are enemies of Islam and a shared enemy of the United States, Iraq, and the international community,” the statement said.
Police said the deadliest of Saturday’s attacks took place when a suicide bomber drove his explosive-laden car into a residential area in the town of Tuz Khormato, killing eight people and wounding dozens, Mayor Shalal Abdool said. The town is about 200 kilometers (130 miles) north of the Iraqi capital.
Police said a car bomb exploded near an outdoor market in the Baghdad’s southeastern suburbs of Jisr Diyala shortly before sunset, killing seven people and wounding 20.
Also in southeastern Baghdad, officials said a car bomb went off inside a parking lot in the mainly Shiite New Baghdad neighborhood, killing three people. Another car bomb exploded in a busy street in the Shiite neighborhood of Amil, killing three people and wounding 14, authorities said. They said another car bomb in Amil killed 3 people and wounded 14.
In the holy Shiite city of Karbala, police said four people were killed in a car bomb attack near a cafe at night. Karbala is 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of Baghdad.
Police said four people were killed and 15 wounded when a car bomb exploded near a cafe in Baghdad’s Shiite neighborhood of Abu Dashir.
In northern Baghdad, a car bomb hit a restaurant in the Shiite area of Khazimiyah, killing five people and wounding 14, authorities said. Police also said that five people were killed when a car bomb exploded near a cafe in Baghdad’s southwestern neighborhood of Baiyaa.
Six people were killed and 15 were wounded in a car bomb explosion in the Shiite neighborhood of Shaab in northeastern Baghdad, officials said.
A car bomb hit near restaurant in the city’s northeastern suburb of Husseiniyah, killing seven people and wounding 15, police said.
Also, a car bomb explosion a commercial street in the Dora area in southern Baghdad killed five and wounded 15, authorities said.
Earlier in the day, four people, including two children, were killed when a bomb exploded near a park just south of Baghdad, authorities said.
Later, a car bomb exploded in a busy street in Nasiriyah city in southern Iraq, killing four people and wounding 41 others, officials said. Nasiriyah is about 200 miles (320 kilometers) southeast of Baghdad.
In the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, a car bomb hit near a Shiite mosque, killing one person and wounding 20 others, police said.
Medical officials confirmed the casualty figures for all the attacks. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to talk to journalists.
The death toll in Saturday’s attacks is the highest single-day total since July 20, when brazen assaults on two prisons near Baghdad plus other attacks left 71 dead.
More than 1,000 people were killed in Iraq in July, the highest monthly death toll in five years, according to the United Nations. The U.N. described the increase as particularly troubling because the numbers had begun declining five years ago following a series of U.S.-led offensives and a Sunni revolt against al-Qaida in Iraq.
Iraqi officials have attributed the recent uptick in the death toll figures to a change in tactics by insurgents who are now trying to attack crowded, soft civilian targets such as cafes, mosques and markets in order to kill as many people as possible.