A spate of car bombs in Shiite areas of Iraq, including two blasts minutes apart at a popular bird market, killed 33 people on Friday, the latest spike in violence amid a simmering political crisis.
The bloodshed came as tens of thousands of people in mostly Sunni parts of the country renewed rallies calling for Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to quit, as they railed against the alleged targeting of their community by authorities.
The latest attacks, which also wounded more than 100, mainly targeted marketplaces that are often crowded on Fridays, the weekly holiday in Iraq, and took the death toll from a week of violence to more than 100.
UN special envoy Martin Kobler in a statement condemned the attacks, and said it was the “duty” of Iraq’s leaders to “see what can be put in place to stop this heinous, horrible violence”.
Twin explosions at a bird market in the north Baghdad neighbourhood of Kadhimiyah, site of the shrine of a revered figure in Shiite Islam, killed at least 17 people and wounded 45 others, security and medical officials said.
The two car bombs were set off just after 9:00 am (0600 GMT) in a car park adjacent to the market, which is typically packed on a Friday.
Glass and shrapnel was scattered across the scene, an AFP journalist said, while pools of blood had formed on the ground and a chain-link fence was badly mangled.
Several nearby cars were completely destroyed, and while passers-by scanned the wreckage, security forces tried to bar journalists from interviewing people in the area or taking pictures or videos.
Militants have targeted Baghdad’s crowded bird markets in the past.
On February 1, 2008 — also a Friday — 100 people were killed by two explosions in such markets in central and east Baghdad.
The explosives were strapped to two mentally impaired women and triggered by remote control in coordinated blasts, a top Iraqi security official said at the time.
In the predominantly Shiite Iraqi province of Babil on Friday, two car bombs in the town of Shomali, south of Baghdad, killed 14 people and wounded 49 others, security and medical officials said.
The first exploded on the town’s outskirts, while the second was detonated in a market.
Women and children were among the casualties in both attacks, medics said.
Another car bomb killed two people near the Shiite shrine city of Karbala, and two policemen were wounded by gunmen in the main northern city of Mosul, officials said.
Sunni militants, including Al-Qaeda’s front group in Iraq, often target Shiite neighbourhoods with deadly attacks in a bid to push the country back to the sectarian bloodshed that blighted it from 2005 to 2008.
The violence is the latest in a wave of unrest including car bombs and suicide attacks after weeks of rallies in Sunni-majority areas calling for Maliki’s ouster.
Renewed demonstrations took place on Friday in Sunni areas of Baghdad, as well as in the northern and western cities of Mosul, Samarra, Baquba and Ramadi.
“I have been here for 45 days waiting for my dream to become a reality,” said Omar al-Faruq, one demonstrator in Ramadi where protesters have for weeks blocked off a trade route linking Baghdad to Jordan and Syria.
“I dream that Maliki will be tried, the same way as Saddam,” he said of dictator Saddam Hussein, who was executed in December 2006 after being tried in Iraq.
A total of 102 people have been killed in violence nationwide in the past week, and January was Iraq’s deadliest month since September according to an AFP tally.
Among the attacks since Saturday were three suicide bombings in as many days.
The violence comes less than three months before provincial elections in April, Iraq’s first vote since March 2010 and a barometer on the popularity of Maliki and his opponents.