A wave of bombings and shootings across Iraq killed at least 60 people and injured as many as 200 others Thursday as sectarian tensions grow amid a political row.
The car bomb in Baghdad killed at least nine people and wounded 27 in the upmarket Karrada neighborhood. At least two other blasts hit Karrada, including another car bomb attack that killed one person.
On Sunday, a suicide car bombing killed 19 people at a Baghdad police academy.
Attacks against primarily Shiite targets surged after Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s government moved against senior members of the Sunni-backed Iraqiya political bloc.
This week, Maliki moved against two top Sunni political leaders saying Vice President Tariq Hashimi of “running a death squad” and calling for a vote of no confidence in his deputy, Saleh Mutlak, who had likened the prime minister to a dictator.
His accusations against the fugitive al-Hashemi – hiding in northern Iraq where the government holds little sway and Kurdish influence is strong – came after the vice president charged on Monday that his bodyguards and other employees were being held in secret prisons and subjected to torture by Maliki loyalists.
Last month, al-Qaeda front group the Islamic State of Iraq claimed responsibility for attacks on Shiite pilgrims and said it would continue operations “as long as the Safavid government continues its war” against Sunnis.
“We will spill rivers of their blood as reciprocity,” it added.
Meanwhile, Iraqi security forces on Wednesday arrested the head of Ansar al-Sunna, a Sunni terrorist group said to be linked to al-Qaeda.
“Iraqi forces today arrested the leader of Ansar al-Sunna, Walid Khaled Ali, as he tried to illegally infiltrate into Iraqi territory from Syria,” Brigadier General Khaled al-Dulaimi told AFP.
Ansar al-Sunna is an ultra-conservative Sunni Salafist group that has claimed responsibility for several attacks against US and Iraqi security forces. It is an offshoot of the Kurdish group Ansar al-Islam.
Hundreds have been killed in attacks since American forces completed their pullout from Iraq on December 18 amid debate among US policymakers over the wisdom of the move.
Sunni tribesmen joined forces with the US military against al-Qaeda from late 2006, which helped turn the tide against the terror insurgency. But now that tide has again reversed course.
Republican lawmakers sharply criticized President Obama for not trying harder to keep a US military presence in Iraq. Sen. John McCain of Arizona said on CBS television Thursday that Iraq was "unraveling tragically."
"We are paying a very heavy price in Baghdad because of our failure to have a residual force there," he said.