BAGHDAD – A wave of car bombings rocked central and northern Iraq on Monday, killing at least 57 people and extending the deadliest eruption of violence to hit the country in years.
Attackers initially targeted marketgoers early in the morning, then turned their sights on police and army posts after sunset. Security forces scrambled to contain the violence, blocking a key road in central Iraq and imposing a curfew in the former Sunni insurgent stronghold of Mosul after the blasts went off.
Killing in Iraq has spiked to levels not seen since 2008. The surge in bloodshed, which follows months of protests by the country’s Sunni Arab minority against the Shiite-led government, is raising fears that Iraq is heading for another bout of uncontrollable sectarian violence.
The upsurge comes as foreign fighters are increasingly pouring into neighboring Syria, where a grueling civil war has taken on sectarian overtones similar to those that pushed Iraq to the brink of its own civil war in 2006 and 2007.
Syria’s conflict is fueling sectarian tensions inside Iraq, with Iraqi al-Qaida-linked Sunni militants cooperating with ideological allies among the Syrian rebels while Iraqi Shiite militants increasingly fight alongside forces loyal to Syria’s Iranian-backed regime.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Monday’s attacks – as has been the case for much of the violence in recent weeks – but coordinated car bombings in civilian areas and against security forces are frequently the work of al-Qaida’s front group in Iraq, known as the Islamic State of Iraq.
Monday’s deadliest attack hit Diyala province when three parked car bombs exploded virtually simultaneously around a wholesale fruit and vegetable market at the height of business in the town of Jidaidat al-Shatt. The town is just outside the provincial capital of Baqouba, about 35 miles northeast of Baghdad.
The blasts killed 15 people and wounded 46.
Baqouba and the surrounding Diyala province were once the site of some of the fiercest fighting between U.S. forces and insurgents in Iraq, and it remains a hotbed for terrorist attacks. The area is religiously mixed and witnessed some of the worst atrocities as Shiite militias battled Sunni insurgents for control in the years after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
The three car bombs used in the attack were deployed in different locations in and around the market in order to inflict the most damage and casualties, police said.
Provincial councilman Sadiq al-Husseini blamed Monday’s bombing in the produce market on al-Qaida-linked groups.
“When the grip is tightened on these groups, they resort to random attacks on residents and foreign pilgrims in order to show to the people that they are still active,” he said. “Our security forces still lack intelligence and bomb-detecting equipment” to stop such attacks, he said.
In the evening, a rapid-fire wave of five car bombings erupted in the volatile northern city of Mosul, killing at least 24 and wounding 114, according to Ninevah Provincial Governor Atheel al-Nujaifi.
Hospital officials confirmed the death tolls.