A wave of attacks, most of them car bombs targeting Shiite neighbourhoods of Baghdad, killed 49 people on Wednesday in the latest bout of deadly violence to hit Iraq.
The bombings and shootings, which also wounded more than 100 people, came amid a protracted surge in bloodletting just months ahead of a general election that has forced Iraqi officials to appeal for international help in combating the country’s deadliest unrest since 2008.
At least eight explosions, including seven car bombs, went off mostly against Shiite Muslim neighbourhoods of the Iraqi capital, killing 36 people and wounding nearly 100, security and medical officials said.
They came after similarly coordinated bombings in Baghdad on Sunday killed 21 people, and pushed the death toll for November above 300.
Wednesday’s attacks struck in areas ranging from the city’s main commercial district of Karrada to the predominantly Shiite neighbourhood of Shaab, as well as Sadriyah, one of Baghdad’s oldest districts.
One car bomb also went off in the Sunni-majority neighbourhood of Adhamiyah in north Baghdad, the officials said.
The blast in Karrada struck near a car dealership as Shiites were gathering to mark the anniversary of the death of a venerated figure in Shiite Islam, when Sunni militants often step up their attacks.
“We were cooking and giving food on the anniversary of the death of Imam Hussein,” said Ahmed Abu Ali, an employee of the Al-Baldawi car dealership.
“Many people were gathering at the dealership and suddenly a car blew up 20 metres (yards) away,” said the 40-year-old, clad in a traditional black Arab robe.
“Even if they bomb us and try to stop us, we will not stop commemorating the anniversary of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein.”
Security forces imposed tight restrictions in areas hit by the attacks, in many cases barring journalists from filming or taking photographs at bomb sites.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the violence, but Sunni militants linked to Al-Qaeda often set off coordinated bombings across Baghdad, typically targeting Shiites, whom they regard as apostates.
In a separate attack in the normally peaceful northern Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah, gunmen assassinated President Jalal Talabani’s chief bodyguard, a police spokesman said.
The trio of attackers entered Colonel Sarwat Rashid’s home and shot him three times in the head in front of his wife.
Authorities were still investigating the motive behind the attack.
Talabani has for nearly a year been recovering in Germany from a stroke and Rashid had been due to leave Sulaimaniyah to visit the president, whom he had served as head of personal security since 1994.
Multiple separate attacks in Baghdad and the main northern city of Mosul, along with bombings in Abu Ghraib and Buhruz, left a dozen others dead.
North of Baghdad, near the Diyala provincial capital of Baquba, police found the bodies of three men killed by gunshots to the head and chest.
The unrest is part of a surge in bloodshed that has pushed violence to its highest level since 2008, when Iraq was recovering from the worst of its Sunni-Shiite sectarian war.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has called for Washington’s help in the form of greater intelligence sharing and the timely delivery of new weapons systems.
But diplomats and analysts say the government is not doing enough to address the root causes of the unrest, particularly frustration within the Sunni Arab minority, which complains of mistreatment by the Shiite-led authorities.
With elections due on April 30, officials fear the level of violence could rise further as militants seek to destabilise the country ahead of the polls.
In addition to failing to stem the bloodshed, authorities have also struggled to provide adequate basic services such as electricity and clean water, and corruption is widespread.