x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Iraq violence rises to levels not seen since 2008

Shiites throughout the country targeted in a string of attacks.

An Iraqi boy inspects damage after a car bomb attack outside a cafe near Kut, southeast of Baghdad.
An Iraqi boy inspects damage after a car bomb attack outside a cafe near Kut, southeast of Baghdad.

BAGHDAD // A string of about 12 apparently coordinated bombs and a shooting killed at least 40 people and wounded scores across Iraq yesterday.

Violence has spiked sharply in Iraq in recent months with the death toll rising to levels not seen since 2008. Nearly 2,000 have been killed since the start of April.

Most of the car bombs hit Shiite-majority areas and were the cause of most of the casualties, killing 26. The blasts hit seven cities and towns in the south and centre of the country.

The attacks on Shiites began when a parked car bomb went off early morning in the industrial area of the city of Kut, 160 kilometres south-east of Baghdad, killing three people and wounding 14.

That was followed by another car bomb outside the city, which targeted a gathering of construction workers, that killed two and wounded 12, according to police.

In the nearby oil-rich city of Basra, a car bomb exploded in a busy downtown street, police said. As police and rescuers rushed to the scene of the initial blast, the second car exploded - six people were killed. Basra is 550 kilometres south-east of Baghdad.

About an hour later, two parked car bombs ripped through two neighbourhoods in the southern city of Nasiriyah, 320 kilometres south-east of Baghdad, killing one and wounding 17, another police officer said.

In the town of Mahmoudiya, 30 kilometres south of Baghdad, two civilians were killed and nine wounded when a car bomb went off in an open market.

In the Shiite holy city of Najaf, 160 kilometres south of Baghdad, a blast struck a produce market, killing eight and wounding 28.

In Madain, a roadside bomb and then a car bomb exploded, killing three and wounding 14. Madain is about 20 kilometres south-east of Baghdad.

Near Hillah, a car bomb parked in a car park exploded, killing one and wounding nine. Hillah is about 95 kilometres south of Baghdad.

The shooting happened near the northern city of Mosul. Police officials said gunmen attacked police guarding a remote stretch of an oil pipeline, killing four and wounding five.

Mosul, about 360 kilometres north-west of Baghdad, has been the scene of some of the deadliest unrest outside of the capital in recent weeks.

There was no claim of responsibility for any of the attacks but they bore the hallmark of Al Qaeda in Iraq, which uses car bombs, suicide bombers and coordinated attacks to target security forces, the Shiite majority in Iraq and others.

The attacks came a day after the leader of Al Qaeda's Iraq arm, Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, defiantly rejected an order from the terror network's central command to stop claiming control over the organisation's Syria affiliate.

Mr Baghdadi's comments reveal the determination of his group - known as the Islamic State of Iraq - to link its fight against the Shiite-led government in Baghdad with the cause of rebels trying to topple the Iran-backed Syrian regime.