BAGHDAD (AP) — A series of attacks including bombings of both Shiite and Sunni mosques left 18 dead in Iraq, the latest in a surge of bloodshed that is raising fears of a return to widespread sectarian killings, officials said Wednesday.
Most attacks on Shiites are presumed to be carried out by the country’s branch of al-Qaida, 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 U.S. forces withdrew from the country.
On Wednesday 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, Rasheed added.
Those attacks brought the death toll from shootings and explosions on Tuesday to 23.
Al-Qaida’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-Qaida members, to escape. The militant group said that it was opening a new campaign dubbed “The Harvest of the Soldiers,” but offered no specifics.