Baghdad – Insurgents unleashed a fierce string of bombings against Iraq’s Shiites on Thursday, attacking pilgrims marching through the desert and neighborhoods in Baghdad in an attempt to stir sectarian violence amid a political crisis that has brought the government to a halt.
At least 60 people died and at least 138 were wounded, security officials said, in the second devastating and apparently coordinated attack in Iraq in less than a month.
No group claimed responsibility for the attacks but they appeared similar to ones conducted by Al Qaeda in Iraq, the Sunni insurgent group that has tried to push the country back to the brink of civil war by pitting the country’s sectarian groups against each other.
Al Qaeda in Iraq killed more than 63 people on Dec. 22 in a series of explosions across Baghdad, the deadliest day in the capital in more than a year. The attacks, however, did not reignite sectarian violence.
Thursday’s most lethal strike occurred near the southern city of Nasiriyah, where a suicide bomber detonated an explosive vest amid a crowd of pilgrims as they waited to pass through a checkpoint, killing 36 and wounding 72, including several Iraqi army officers, according to security officials.
The pilgrims were making a trip to the holy city of Karbala leading up to holiday of Arbaeen, which marks the end of the 40-day mourning period for the death of Imam Hussein ibn Ali, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.
The violence began early on Thursday morning in Baghdad when explosives strapped to a motorcycle were detonated near a group of day laborers who had congregated by the side of the road in the slum of Sadr City, according to security officials.
Moments later, two improvised explosive devices were detonated near rescuers who were taking the wounded to a nearby hospital, the officials said. Nine people were killed in the explosions and 35 were wounded.
An hour after the Sadr City attack, two car bombs were detonated in bustling squares in the neighborhood of Kadhimiya, killing 15 people and wounding 31, according to security officials.
The explosions on Thursday came a little less than three weeks after American troops withdrew from Iraq and the Shiite government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki accused the country’s Sunni vice president of running a death squad.
The vice president, Tariq al-Hashimi, fled Baghdad for the country’s semiautonomous Kurdish region where Mr. Maliki’s security forces have less authority. Meanwhile, in Baghdad Sunni and Kurdish politicians have accused Mr. Maliki of trying to use the episode to consolidate his power and have boycotted sessions of Parliament.
“When politicians have a problem, the citizens are usually the ones who pay,” said Abu Sajad, a minibus driver who was near the attack in Sadr City. “This has happened before and continues to happen.”
On Wednesday, eight people were killed in attacks across the country. In the restive province of Diyala, where the local government has expressed desires for more autonomy from the central government, insurgents blew up the home of a police officer, killing his 6-year old daughter and two others.
A 22-year old laborer said that at the time of the Sadr City attack he was sitting on the side of the road with other laborers around a fire. “We were sitting waiting for a job,” said the laborer, Yasir Rasul. “I saw three people inside the bus who were killed instantly,” when the motorcycle bomb exploded near a minibus, he said.
Yasir Ghazi and Zaid Thaker contributed reporting.