x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Sunni and Shiite mosques targeted in Iraq attacks, 18 dead

Latest in a surge of bloodshed is raising fears of a return to widespread sectarian killings.

BAGHDAD // A series of attacks including bombings of both Shiite and Sunni mosques left 18 dead in Iraq yesterday, the latest in a surge of bloodshed that is raising fears of a return to widespread sectarian killings, officials said.

Most attacks on Shiites are presumed to be carried out by the country's branch of Al Qaeda, which on Tuesday claimed credit for a wave of bombings across the country the day before that killed at least 58 people. It said the attacks were carried out on behalf of "oppressed Sunnis," suggesting the group is trying to capitalize on Sunnis' complaints of being treated as second-class citizens by the Shiite-dominated government.

Attacks on Sunni civilians are rarer but have also been a feature of the surge of bloodletting that has left 3,000 dead since April. The uptick of violence is dampening hopes for a return to normal life nearly two years after the last US forces withdrew from the country.

Yesterday morning, a carload of gunmen sped through a commercial street in Baghdad's Shiite-dominated Ur district and opened fire apparently at random, killing five pedestrians and wounding nine others, a police officer said. In the southeastern suburb of Nahrawan, also a majority-Shiite area, drive-by shooters sprayed farmers in a pickup truck with bullets, killing two and wounded three, another police officer said.

Late Tuesday, a suicide bomber set off his explosives amid Shiite worshippers leaving a mosque in the city's suburb of Hussainiya, killing seven. Another bomb striking a Sunni mosque in the ethnically-mixed northern town of Tuz Khormato killed four, local police chief Col Hussein Ali Rasheed said. Four others were wounded, Col Rasheed added.

Al Qaeda's Tuesday statement also said that a campaign called "Breaking the Walls," which made freeing its imprisoned members a top priority, had come to a close with twin attacks on prisons last week that allowed hundreds of inmates, including senior Al Qaeda members, to escape. The militant group said that it was opening a new campaign dubbed "The Harvest of the Soldiers," but offered no specifics.