BAGHDAD An al Qaeda affiliate claimed responsibility for a series of bombings in Baghdad and other areas of Iraq in retaliation for the execution of Sunni Muslim prisoners, according to an Internet statement on Friday.
Hundreds of people have been killed in attacks across Iraq in recent weeks in the worst wave of sectarian bloodshed in the country for at least five years. Just last week, car bombs, roadside bombs and shootings have killed at least 100 people.
The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) said in a statement it had acted in response to the prisoner killings, an apparent reference to the execution of 17 people in Iraq this month, most convicted on terrorism charges.
"We will avenge the blood of our brothers," said the statement, posted on a website used by Islamist militants.
An insurgency by Sunni Islamist militants, including the local branch of al Qaeda, against Iraq's Shi'ite-led government, has been gaining momentum 18 months after the last U.S. troops withdrew.
The Islamic State of Iraq has significantly increased its attacks this year. More than 1,000 Iraqis were killed in July, the highest monthly death toll since 2008, according to the United Nations.
More than two years of civil war in neighboring Syria have aggravated deep-rooted sectarian divisions and shaken Iraq's fragile coalition of Shi'ite, Kurdish and Sunni factions.
The renewed violence has sparked fears of a return to the large-scale sectarian slaughter in 2006 and 2007.
(Reporting By Ali Abdelaty; Writing by Maha El Dahan; editing by Sami Aboudi and Elizabeth Piper)