A wave of attacks across Iraq killed 67 people Thursday as it faced a political crisis, with its vice president accused of running death squads and the premier warning he could break off power-sharing.
Apparently coordinated blasts in the capital and the slaughter of a family of five in restive Diyala province were the first major sign of violence in a row that has threatened Iraq’s fragile political truce and heightened sectarian tensions just days after US forces completed their withdrawal.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki vowed that the bombers would not be allowed to have any impact on the political process, while parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi condemned the attacks, which he said “threaten national unity.”
“The timing of these crimes and their locations confirm once again to any doubters the political nature of the goals that those criminals want to achieve,” Maliki said in a statement.
“The criminals and those who stand behind them will not succeed in changing events or the political process, or in escaping punishment.”
Parliament called an urgent meeting of political leaders for Friday, the Muslim day of prayer and rest.
Meanwhile, US army chief of staff General Ray Odierno, former head of US forces in Iraq, met with Maliki for talks on military cooperation, a statement from the premier’s office said, without elaborating..
More than a dozen Baghdad attacks, the deadliest in more than four months, mostly targeted Shiite neighbourhoods and coincided with the morning rush hour.
Health ministry spokesman Ziad Tariq put the toll at 60 dead and 183 wounded, while an interior ministry official said 63 people were killed and 194 wounded.
The deadliest single attack involved a car bomb driven by a suicide attacker which blew up at the offices of the anti-corruption agency, killing 23 people, including five senior investigators, the interior ministry official said.
Twin roadside bombs and a car bomb, struck construction workers in the Allawi neighbourhood, central Baghdad, killing 16.
And separate evening attacks at a market and a cafe killed three, Tariq said.
Helicopters could be heard hovering overhead at many of the blast sites and emergency response vehicles rushed to the scene of attacks, while tightened security at checkpoints worsened Baghdad’s already choking traffic.
“They didn’t target any vital institutions or security positions,” Baghdad security spokesman Major General Qassim Atta told AFP. “They targeted children’s schools, day workers, the anti-corruption agency.”
Atta, who said there had been a dozen attacks across the city, said it was “too early to say” who was behind the violence.
The attacks struck in the Allawi, Bab al-Muatham and Karrada districts of central Baghdad; Adhamiyah, Shuala and Shaab in the north, Jadriyah in the east, Ghazaliyah in the west and Al-Amil and Dura in the south, officials said.
A family of five — parents, their two daughters and a son — were gunned down by insurgents in a suburb of the Diyala provincial capital Baquba, north of Baghdad, early on Thursday, medical and security officials said.
The father and son were both members of the anti-Qaeda Sunni tribal militia known as the Sahwa which sided with the US military from late-2006, helping to turn the tide of the insurgency.
And in the main northern city of Mosul, a gun attack on an army checkpoint left two soldiers dead, a police officer said.
The White House insisted Iraq’s security forces were capable in the face of Thursday’s “heinous” attacks, while the US embassy noted it was “especially important during this critical period that Iraq’s political leaders work to resolve differences peacefully.”
UN special envoy to Baghdad Martin Kobler slammed the “horrendous” attacks, and said Iraq’s leaders must “act swiftly, responsibly and in unity.”
Britain and the European Union also condemned the attacks.
Thursday’s violence was the worst since August 15, when 74 people were killed in a series of attacks across 17 Iraqi cities.
It comes with Iraqi politicians at loggerheads over a warrant issued for the arrest of Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, with Maliki demanding that Kurdish authorities hand over the Sunni Arab official, who is holed up in their autonomous region. Hashemi denies the charges.
Maliki has also called for his Sunni deputy, Saleh al-Mutlak, who belongs to the same Iraqiya bloc as Hashemi, to be sacked after he described the Shiite-led government as a “dictatorship.”
Iraqiya is boycotting parliament and the cabinet, and Maliki has threatened to replace their ministers in the year-old unity government.
Washington has urged calm, with the crisis coming just days after US troops completed their withdrawal, leaving behind what President Barack Obama had described as a “sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq.”