Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Iraq: More than 95 killed, more than 200 wounded in sectarian spillover from Syria

(Iraq) Iraq's wave of bloodshed has sharply escalated with more than a dozen car bombings across the country, part of attacks that killed at least 95 people and brought echoes of past sectarian carnage and fears of a dangerous spillover from Syria's civil war next door.

The latest spiral of violence - which has claimed more than 240 lives in the past week - carries the hallmarks of the two sides that brought nearly nonstop chaos to Iraq for years: Sunni insurgents, including al Qaeda's branch in Iraq, and Shiite militias defending their newfound power after Saddam Hussein's fall.

But the widening shadow and regional brinksmanship from Syria's conflict now increasingly threaten to feed into Iraq's sectarian strife, heightening concerns that Iraq could be turning toward civil war. [...]

"You cannot remove the Syrian element from what's happening in Iraq," said Sami al-Faraj, director of the Kuwait Center for Strategic Studies. "The outcome of the war in Syria has big consequences for both Iraq's Sunnis and Shiites. What we see now is an extension of that in some respects."

The worst of Monday's violence took place in Baghdad, where 10 car bombs ripped through open-air markets and other areas of Shiite neighbourhoods, killing at least 48 people and wounding more than 150, police officials said.

In Balad, about 80km north of Baghdad, a car bomb exploded next to a bus carrying Iranian pilgrims, killing 13 Iranians and one Iraqi, a police officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to brief the media.

Meanwhile, in the predominantly Shiite city of Basra in southern Iraq, twin car bombings - outside a restaurant and at the city's main bus station - killed at least 13 people and wounded 40, according to provincial police spokesman Col. Abdul-Karim al-Zaidi and the head of the city's health directorate, Riadh Abdul-Amir.

"All of a sudden, a thunderous explosion lifted my car and put it back on the ground," said Sami Saadon, a Basra taxi driver who suffered shrapnel injuries in his chest. "I could barely open the door and I crawled outside the car, where smoke and dust were everywhere."

A car bomb later struck Shiite worshippers as they were leaving a mosque in the southern city of Hillah, killing nine and wounding 26, police and health officials said.

Monday's violence also struck Sunni areas.

A car bomb in Samarra, north of Baghdad, went off near a gathering of pro-government Sunni militia waiting outside a military base to receive salaries, killing three and wounding 13. In the western province of Anbar, the hub of Sunni power, gunmen ambushed two police patrols near the town of Haditha, killing eight policemen, officials said.

Also in Anbar, authorities found 13 bodies dumped in a remote desert area. The victims, who included eight policemen kidnapped by gunmen on Friday, had been killed by a gunshot to the head, officials said.