A car packed with explosives has blown up in the south of Baghdad, killing at least 55 people and wounding dozens more.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group claimed responsibility for Thursday’s attack, which came amid a renewed wave of violence in the Iraqi capital.
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Baghdad was rocked by a wave of deadly suicide bombings during the first days of 2017, but relatively few explosions had been reported since.
Security sources said the vehicle that blew up was parked in a crowded street full of garages and used car dealers, in Bayaa neighbourhood in the southwest of the city.
Iraqi officials said the bomb targeted car dealerships in the mostly Shia neighbourhood.
The site of the bombing was an open space used as a second-hand car market where hundreds of private sellers park their vehicles and wait all day to discuss prices with prospective buyers.
‘Terrorist car bomb’
The Amaq propaganda agency linked to ISIL, which has claimed nearly all such attacks recently, reported the blast and described it as targeting “a gathering of Shias”.
“A terrorist car bomb attack struck near car dealerships in Bayaa,” a spokesperson for the Baghdad Operations Command said in a statement.
An interior ministry official gave a death toll of 52 and said that more than 50 other people were also wounded. Hospital officials confirmed the figures.
Security officials could be seen inspecting the site before the sun set, while some distressed civilians searched for relatives and others took pictures with their mobile phones of the large crater caused by the blast.
Another four attacks in and around Baghdad on Thursday killed eight people and wounded about 30, police and medical officials said.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms the horrible terrorist attacks carried out by ISIS targeting a car dealership in Baghdad,” the US state separtment said.
Jan Kubis, the UN’s top envoy in Iraq, said: “Yet again, the terrorists are continuing with their carnage against innocent civilians. This is totally unacceptable.”
The latest bombings were also condemned by France, one of the main partners of the US in a coalition assisting Iraq in its battle against ISIL, whose fighters also control parts of neighbouring Syria.
ISIL is currently defending the west bank of the northern city of Mosul, its last major urban stronghold in Iraq, against a huge offensive by the security forces.
Four months into the broad military operation, Iraq’s largest in years, elite forces have retaken the eastern side of the city and are preparing for an assault on the part of Mosul that lies west of the Tigris River.
ISIL fighters have carried out diversionary attacks, such as raids in other towns and cities as well as bombings in Baghdad and elsewhere, in an apparent bid to stretch federal security forces and capture headlines.
On Wednesday, a suicide bomber detonated a pick-up truck in Baghdad’s Sadr City suburb, killing at least 15 and wounding 50 more.
And on Tuesday, a car-bomb explosion in southern Baghdad killed at least four people.