Middle East

Iraq unrest: Eid al-Fitr bomb attacks kill dozens

Bomb attack in Nasiriya, Iraq, 10 August
Image caption The bombs mainly targeted Baghdad, but Nasiriya, 375km to the south, was also hit

More than 60 people have been killed and nearly 300 others wounded in a series of bomb attacks in Iraq.

The violence came during celebrations for Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

Most of the casualties were in the capital, Baghdad, which was hit by apparently co-ordinated car bombings near markets, cafes and restaurants.

This Ramadan in Iraq is thought to have been one of the deadliest in years, with more than 670 people killed.

Most of the violence in the past six months has involved Sunni Islamist militant groups targeting Shia Muslim districts, although both Shia and Sunni areas were hit on Saturday.

More than 4,000 people have died in such attacks this year. A further 9,865 have been injured, with Baghdad province the worst hit.

'Enemies of Islam'

The capital's deadliest car bomb attack on Saturday struck in the evening near an outdoor market in the south-eastern suburb of Jisr Diyala, police said, killing seven people and injuring 20.

Among the other areas struck were Amil, Abu Dashir, Khadhimiya, Baiyaa, Shaab, Husseiniya and Dora.

Saif Mousa, the owner of a shoe store in the mainly Shia New Baghdad, said he was sitting in his shop when he heard an explosion outside.

He told the Associated Press: "My shop's windows were smashed and smoke filled the whole area. I went outside of the shop and I could hardly see because of the smoke. We had a terrible day that was supposed to be nice."

At least another 10 people were killed in a suicide car bomb attack in the town of Tuz Khurmato, 170km (105 miles) north of Baghdad.

Other attacks were reported in the Shia holy city of Karbala, 80km (50 miles) south of Baghdad, and Nasiriya, 375km (230 miles) south of the capital.

Another went off near a Shia mosque in the northern city of Kirkuk.

The US state department condemned the "cowardly attacks" which it said had been "aimed at families celebrating the Eid al-Fitr".

"The terrorists who committed these acts are enemies of Islam and a shared enemy of the United States, Iraq, and the international community," spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.

The attacks bore the hallmarks of similar suicide and car bomb attacks carried out over the past 90 days by al-Qaeda in Iraq, she added, noting that the US was offering a $10m ($6.4m) reward for information that helped the authorities kill or capture its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Last week, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki vowed to continue operations against militants, saying: "We will not leave our children to these murderers and those standing behind them and supporting both inside and outside."

Many Sunnis accuse Mr Maliki's Shia-led government of marginalising them.

The tensions this year were fuelled in April when Iraqi security forces broke up an anti-government Sunni protest in the city of Hawija, killing and wounding dozens of protesters.

Image caption Iraqis had been trying to enjoy the Eid al-Fitr holiday

Then last month, hundreds of inmates escaped after gunmen stormed two jails near Baghdad - Abu Ghraib to the west of the capital and Taji to the north.

The spike in violence in Iraq has raised fears of a return to the levels of sectarian killing seen following the US invasion 10 years ago, and has led commentators to discuss once again the prospect of partition along community lines.

The Iraqi government has also faced widespread criticism over corruption and the provision of basic services.

The conflict in neighbouring Syria, itself increasingly taking the form of a Sunni-Shia sectarian conflict, is further straining community relations in Iraq.