x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Bombs tear through Baghdad, killing 57

A wave of bombings tears through Baghdad, killing 57 people on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the US-led invasion.

BAGHDAD // A wave of bombings tore through Baghdad yesterday, killing 57 people on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the US-led invasion.

The attacks showed how unstable Iraq remains more than a year after the withdrawal of American troops.

Violence has ebbed sharply since the peak of fighting between Sunnis and Shiites that pushed the country to the brink of civil war in 2006 and 2007.

But insurgents are still able to launch such attacks, as sectarian and ethnic rivalries continue to undermine national unity.

Yesterday's apparently coordinated attacks included car bombs and explosives stuck underneath vehicles.

They targeted government security forces and mainly Shiite areas, small restaurants, day labourers and bus stops for more than two hours, police and hospital officials say.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blasts, but they bore hallmarks of Al Qaeda in Iraq. The terror group, which uses car bombs and coordinated attacks to undermine public confidence in the government, has sought to reassert its presence in recent weeks.

The violence started about 8am, when a bomb exploded outside a popular restaurant in Baghdad's Mashtal neighbourhood, killing four people, police and hospital officials said. It blew out the restaurant's windows and left several cars mangled in the blood-streaked street.

Minutes later, a roadside bomb hit a meeting point for day labourers in the New Baghdad area, killing two of them.

The sprawling Shiite slum district of Sadr City was hit by three explosions that killed 10 people, including three commuters on a minibus.

Hussein Abdul Khaliq, a government employee who lives in Sadr City, said he heard an explosion and went out to find the minibus on fire.

"We helped take some trapped women and children from outside the burning bus before the arrival of the rescue teams," Mr Abdul Khaliq said.

"Our clothes were covered with blood as we tried to rescue the trapped people or to move out the bodies. Today's attacks are new proof that the politicians and security officials are a huge failure."

The deadliest attack was a 10am car bombing near the ministry of labour and social affairs in Baghdad's eastern Qahira neighbourhood, which killed seven people.

Another car exploded outside a restaurant near one of the main gates to the fortified Green Zone, which houses major government offices and the US and British embassies, killing six people, including two soldiers. Thick, black smoke could be seen rising from the area as ambulances raced to the scene.

Just north of the capital, a mortar shell landed near a clinic north of Baghdad in Taji, killing two people, while a roadside bomb hit an army patrol in Tarmiyah, killing a soldier.

A car bomb also exploded near a bus stop south of the capital in Iskandiriyah, leaving five people dead.

Attacks elsewhere in Baghdad killed 20 people in the mainly Shiite neighbourhoods of Hussainiyah, Zafarniyah, Kazimiyah, Shula and Utaifiya.

The symbolism of yesterday's attacks was strong, coming 10 years to the day after Washington launched the invasion of Iraq with a "shock and awe" campaign of airstrikes on March 19, 2003.

The military action quickly ousted Saddam Hussein but led to years of bloodshed as Sunni and Shiite militants battled US forces and each other, leaving nearly 4,500 Americans and more than 100,000 Iraqis killed.

A decade later, Iraq's long-term stability and the strength of its democracy are open questions.

The country is unquestionably freer and more democratic than it was during Saddam's murderous reign.

But instead of a solidly pro-US regime, the Iraqis have a Shiite-led government that is arguably closer to Tehran than Washington and faces the anger of the Sunni minority that was dominant under Saddam.

Underscoring the political tensions, Iraq's cabinet decided yesterday to delay elections in two provinces dominated by Sunnis for up to six months.

The two provinces, Anbar and Ninevah, have been at the centre of protests against the Iraqi government for almost three months. Provincial elections were scheduled for April 20.

The decision followed requests from the political blocs in the provinces, the government spokesman Ali Al Moussawi said.