Bombs ripped through Sunni areas in Baghdad and surrounding areas Friday, killing at least 76 people in the deadliest day in Iraq in more than eight months. The major spike in sectarian bloodshed heightened fears the country could again be veering toward civil war.
The attacks followed two days of bombings targeting Shiites, including bus stops and outdoor markets, with a total of 130 people killed since Wednesday.
Scenes of bodies sprawled across a street outside a mosque and mourners killed during a funeral procession were reminiscent of some of the worst days of retaliatory warfare between the Islamic sects that peaked in 2006-07 as U.S. forces battled extremists on both sides.
Tensions have been intensifying since Sunnis began protesting what they say is mistreatment at the hands of the Shiite-led government, including random detentions and neglect. The protests, which began in December, have largely been peaceful, but the number of attacks rose sharply after a deadly security crackdown on a Sunni protest camp in northern Iraq on April 23.
Majority Shiites control the levers of power in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. Wishing to rebuild the nation rather than revert to open warfare, they have largely restrained their militias in the past five years or so as Sunni extremist groups such as al-Qaida have frequently targeted them with large-scale attacks.
Nobody claimed responsibility for Friday’s attacks, but the fact they occurred in mainly Sunni areas raised suspicion that Shiite militants were involved. The bombs also were largely planted in the areas, as opposed to the car bombings and suicide attacks that al-Qaida in Iraq and other Sunni insurgents are known to use.