By Edward Yeranian
Deadly explosions rocked cities across Iraq Wednesday, killing at least 72 people and wounding nearly 260. The bombings coincided with an annual Shi’ite pilgrimage to honor a revered 8th century religious figure.
There were more than a dozen explosions, hitting nine Iraqi cities, in one of the deadliest waves of violence in the country this year.
Irap with locations of several cities where bombings occurred
At least four bombs went off in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, apparently timed to coincide with a major Shi’ite pilgrimage. Thousands of pilgrims from across Iraq and the region are making the annual trek, on foot, to the shrine of Imam Moussa Kadhim in Baghdad.
A security spokesman in the capital, Colonel Dia al Wakil, said at least one of the explosions bore the hallmarks of Sunni Islamic extremists.
The third explosion was the work of a suicide car bomber who targeted a group of pilgrims, he said, describing it as a rotten deed bearing the hallmark of the Sunni extremists known as Takfiris.
Bombs also went off in the cities of Kirkuk, Taji, Baquba, Karbala, Mosul, Hilla, Aziziya and Balad.
One young man in Baghdad said pilgrims and other people were slaughtered by the blast and that he got stuck in the middle of the carnage when he came to buy gas.
The attacks took place amid a prolonged political conflict between Iraq’s Sunni and Shi’ite political leaders. Opponents of Shi’ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki failed to unseat him during a bid this month to hold a parliamentary vote of no-confidence.
Middle East analyst Khattar Abou Diab, who teaches political science at the University of Paris, said that the political conflict in Iraq, as well as regional tensions, appear to be stoking the latest violence.
The bitter political crisis [between Sunni and Shi’ite political leaders], plus the recent attempts to unseat Nouri al-Maliki, have ratcheted up the level of tension, Diab said. Iraq is a focal point for the wider, regional Sunni-Shi’ite conflict, he added.
The post-war level of sectarian violence in Iraq has gone down in recent months, but bombings like those which rocked the country Wednesday still take place from time to time.