Bombers struck at Shia pilgrims celebrating a religious festival in Baghdad and across Iraq on Wednesday, killing more than 70 people in one of the bloodiest days since the last US troops withdrew from the country in December.
The bombings appeared to be the work of Sunni insurgents who often hit Shia targets to try to reignite the intercommunal violence that killed tens of thousands of people in 2006-2007.
With the government’s Sunni, Shia and ethnic Kurdish parties already locked in a crisis that threatens to shatter their delicate power-sharing agreement, the attacks revived fears that Iraq risked sliding back into sectarian bloodshed.
It was the worst day of violence since early January, when four bombs in Baghdad killed 73, and the latest in a spate of bombings on Shia religious sites.
At least 30 people were killed when four blasts hit pilgrims across Baghdad as they marched through the city to mark the anniversary of the death of Shia imam Moussa al Kadhim, a great-grandson of Prophet Mohammad.
One car bomb exploded outside a Baghdad Shia mosque while another blast tore into groups of pilgrims as they rested at refreshment tents along the route to a shrine in Kadhimiya district.
“A group of pilgrims were walking and passed by a tent offering food and drinks when suddenly a car exploded near them,” said Wathiq Muhana, a policeman whose patrol was stationed near the blast in central Karrada district.
“People were running away covered with blood and bodies were scattered on the ground,” he said.
In a separate attack in the mainly Shia southern city of Hilla, police said two simultaneous car bombs, including one detonated by a suicide bomber, exploded outside restaurants used by security forces, killing 22 people.
“When a minibus packed with policemen stopped near the restaurants, a car exploded near the bus,” said Maitham Sahib, owner of a restaurant in Hilla near the blast. “It’s heart breaking. It is just sirens, and screams of wounded people.”
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