KIRKUK, Iraq (Reuters) - Several bomb blasts killed at least 12 people in Iraq on Tuesday, police said, a day after more than 70 died in attacks on majority Shi‘ites, stoking fears of all-out sectarian war with minority Sunnis.
More than 200 people have been killed in the past week as Sunni-Shi‘ite tensions, fuelled by the civil war in neighboring Syria, threaten to plunge Iraq back into communal bloodletting.
In Tuesday’s violence, three roadside bombs exploded near a livestock market in the ethnically mixed city of Kirkuk, killing six people and shredding the bodies of humans and animals alike.
Mahmoud Jumaa, whose cousin was killed in the multiple bombings, appeared bewildered by their random nature.
“I heard the explosions, but never thought this place would be targeted since these animals have nothing to do with politics, nothing to do with sect, nothing to do with ethnicity or religion,” he said.
Kirkuk is in a disputed oil-rich swathe of Iraq claimed both by the Shi‘ite-dominated government in Baghdad and ethnic Kurds who run their own autonomous administration in the north.
Two car bomb blasts killed three people in a residential area of the town of Tuz Khurmato, also in the disputed area.
North of Baghdad, a suicide bomber killed three soldiers at a checkpoint in Tarmiya, police and medics said.
Ten years after the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, Iraq’s Sunnis, Shi‘ites and Kurds have yet to find a stable power-sharing deal and violence is again on the upswing.
The conflict in Syria, where mostly Sunni rebels are fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad, is turning in part into a regional proxy war between Sunni and Shi‘ite powers.
Lebanon’s Iranian-backed Shi‘ite Hezbollah group is now openly fighting alongside Assad’s forces, which are dominated by members of his minority Shi‘ite-linked Alawite sect.
Iraq’s Sunnis who resent their treatment by Shi‘ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s government have staged mass protests since December. Sunni militants, some of them linked to al Qaeda, have exploited the unrest, urging Sunnis to take up arms.
More than 700 people died violently in April, according to the United Nations, the highest monthly figure in almost five years. Iraq suffered a frenzy of Sunni-Shi‘ite violence in 2006-07, when monthly death tolls sometimes topped 3,000.
Reporting by Mustafa Mahmoud; Writing by Isabel Coles; Editing by Alistair Lyon