A NEW wave of bombings has caused carnage in Iraq’s capital, Baghdad, killing at least 20 people.
It is the latest assault by militants who have been fighting Iraqi security forces and allied tribes in the country’s west.
The deadliest attack took place in Baghdad’s Shia northern Shaab neighbourhood, when two parked car bombs exploded simultaneously near a restaurant and a tea house. Officials say those blasts killed 10 people and wounded 26.
Authorities said that a parked car bomb ripped through the capital’s Shia eastern district of Sadr City, killing five and wounding 10.
Another bombing killed three civilians and wounded six in a commercial area in the central Bab al-Muadham area, officials said. Two other bombings killed two civilians and wounded 13, police said.
The attacks come as Iraqi security forces are besieging two key cities in the country’s western Anbar province after they were taken over by militants from al-Qaida’s local branch, known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant.
Clashes have been taking place since last Monday in Anbar’s provincial capital, Ramadi, and nearby Fallujah between al-Qaida militants and pro-government Sunni tribesmen. The Baghdad bombings could be seen as an attempt by militants to distract security forces.
Tensions in Anbar have run high since December 28, when Iraqi security forces arrested a Sunni lawmaker sought for terrorism charges. Two days later, the government dismantled a months-old, anti-government Sunni protest camp, sparking clashes with militants.
To ease the tension, the Shia-led government withdrew army forces from the cities. Sunni politicians see the army as a tool of prime minister Nouri al-Maliki to target his rivals.
Iraq’s al-Qaida branch has fed on Sunni discontent and on the civil war in neighbouring Syria, in which mostly Sunni rebels fight a government whose base is a Shia offshoot sect.
Militants have targeted civilians, particularly in Shia areas of Baghdad, with waves of co-ordinated car bombings. According to the United Nations, Iraq had the highest annual death toll in 2013 since the worst of the sectarian bloodletting began to subside in 2007.