By Ernesto Londoño The Washington Post
BAGHDAD — A wave of bombings and assassinations rattled parts of Iraq, including the capital, on Tuesday, leaving at least 60 dead and offering a grim reminder of the country’s instability a decade after the United States military invaded.
Citing deteriorating security, officials announced a delay of provincial elections scheduled to take place next month in Anbar and Nineveh, two predominantly Sunni provinces that have become hubs of unrest and protest in recent months.
Tuesday’s violence, which marked the deadliest day in Iraq so far this year, introduced a new irritant to the country’s volatile politics. The powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr threatened to join other factions boycotting the coalition government led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, saying the government is failing to keep its citizens safe.
Plumes of smoke darkened an otherwise clear blue sky when the explosions started in the capital after 8 a.m. By afternoon, the city’s streets were largely deserted, as Iraqis took shelter.
The bombings were in mainly Shiite areas of Baghdad, following a strategy that Sunni militants have employed in the past to stoke sectarian tension. An Iraqi security official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters, said 48 people were killed and 177 people were wounded. The Associated Press put the death toll in the capital at 57.
In addition, six people were killed in Mosul, a restless city in the north, and six others were killed in Babil province in the south, according to Iraqi press reports.
No group claimed to have carried out the attacks, and it was unclear whether they were meant to send a message on the 10-year anniversary of the war that ousted dictator Saddam Hussein, which has gone largely unmentioned here.
“We live in bitterness,” Waleed Farhan, a 36-year-old driver in Amel, one of the districts targeted, said. “How long are we going to stay in this situation?”
Farhan said the attacks were probably carried out by al-Qaeda in Iraq, a Sunni insurgent group that emerged in response to what Sunnis came to perceive as an abusive foreign military occupation. The group now carries out attacks seeking to undermine and discredit Iraq’s Shiite-led government.
“They were designed to put pressure on the Shiite government by targeting Shiite areas,” Farhan said of Tuesday’s attacks.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a statement Tuesday that the anniversary is an opportune time to reflect on the sacrifices of American troops.
“Every man and woman who served in Iraq carries with them the scars of war,” Hagel said. “As we remember these quiet heroes this week we are also reminded of their families and their sacrifices, as we also honor and thank them.”
Hagel also noted the toll the conflict has taken on Iraqi civilians and security forces.
“The Iraqi people will determine the future of Iraq, and the United States will continue to support their efforts for a peaceful, secure, free, and prosperous nation,” the secretary wrote.
The U.N. envoy to Iraq condemned Tuesday’s violence.
“Once again, innocent people going about their daily lives were viciously attacked,” Martin Kobler said in a statement. “Nothing can justify such heinous crimes.”
Jabbar Yaseen contributed to this report.