A suicide bomber targeting Shia pilgrims has killed at least 46 people and wounded at least 80 others in southern Iraq, Qusay al-Abadi, head of the provincial council in Nassiriya, told Reuters news agency.
Local security sources said on Thursday the attack occurred at a police checkpoint in al-Badha area west of Nassiriya, 300km southeast of Baghdad, as pilgrims were walking to the shrine city of Karbala for Arbaeen commemorations.
This came hours after explosions in several mainly Shia Muslim neighbourhoods of eastern Baghdad killed at least 24 people and wounded a further 66, according to Iraqi officials.
Major General Qassim al-Moussawi, Baghdad military spokesman, said the aim of the attacks is “to create sedition among the Iraqi people”. He said it was too early to say who was behind the bombings.
Thursday’s attacks were the worst since a series of explosions across the Iraqi capital on December 22 killed 60 people.
Three bombs, one planted on a parked motorcycle and another two, also roadside devices, killed at least nine people and wounded 35 others in the impoverished Sadr City district in northeastern Baghdad, sources said.
“There was a group of day labourers gathered, waiting to be hired for work. Someone brought his small motorcycle and parked it nearby. A few minutes later it blew up, killed some people, wounded others and burned some cars,” a police officer at the scene, declining to be named, said.
“Political leaders fight each other for power, and we pay the price,” Ahmed Khalaf, a labourer near the site of attacks, said, alluding to the political tension between Sunni and Shia leaders.
Two bomb attacks in Kadhimiyah, another predominantly Shia district in Baghdad’s north, killed another 15 people and wounded 31, an interior ministry official said.
Al Jazeera’s Dahr Jamail, reporting from Baghdad, said that the the timing of the attacks “couldn’t have come at a worse time”, pointing to the tense political situation in the country.
The Shia-dominated cabinet of the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, issued an arrest warrant last month for the country’s highest-ranking Sunni politician, Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi.
Hashemi is currently living in Iraq’s Kurdish north, thus effectively out of reach of state security forces.
Maliki’s main political rival, the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc, is boycotting parliament sessions and cabinet meetings in protest against what it says are efforts by the government to consolidate power and marginalise them.
Al Jazeera’s Jamail said a meeting which is expected to take place at President Jalal Talabani’s home in Baghdad has yet to be scheduled.
“It is still going to happen, according to groups, but we don’t have a date yet,” he said.
“The [Shia Islamist] Sadr bloc said they won’t be a part of the meeting if the rival political group Asab al-Haq comes, for example, and the Hashemi situation is not to be discussed, according to Maliki”, which further complicate the situation.