BAGHDAD – An apparently coordinated wave of bombings targeting Shiite Muslims killed at least 78 people in Iraq on Thursday, the second large-scale assault by militants since U.S. forces pulled out last month.
The attacks, which bore the hallmarks of Sunni insurgents, come ahead of a Shiite holy day that draws hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from across Iraq, raising fears of a deepening of sectarian bloodshed. Rifts along the country’s Sunni-Shiite fault line just a few years ago pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war.
The bombings in Baghdad and outside the southern city of Nasiriyah appeared to be the deadliest in Iraq in more than a year.
Thursday’s blasts occurred at a particularly unstable time for Iraq’s fledgling democracy. A broad-based unity government designed to include the country’s main factions is mired in a political crisis pitting politicians from the Shiite majority now in power against the Sunni minority, which reigned supreme under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.
The attacks began during Baghdad’s morning rush hour, when explosions struck the capital’s largest Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City and another district that contains a Shiite shrine, killing at least 30 people, according to police.
Several hours later, a suicide attack hit pilgrims heading to the Shiite holy city of Karbala, killing 48, police said. The explosions took place near Nasiriyah, about 200 miles southeast of Baghdad.