BAGHDAD (Reuters) - At least 41 people were killed and 68 wounded on Wednesday when two car bombs ripped through a busy market in Baghdad’s Sadr City slum, mowing down families as they crowded around a popular ice cream parlor, police said.
A third car bomb planted in a taxi in the mainly Shi’ite Muslim area was detonated by security forces.
The blasts followed two days of suicide bombings last week in which 150 people died, stirring fears Iraq could descend into a new spiral of sectarian conflict just as it appeared to be emerging from six years of bloodshed.
After Wednesday’s explosions, Iraqi troops fired shots to scatter bystanders crowded around charred wreckage. Angry residents threw stones and empty bottles at army vehicles and accused the soldiers of failing to protect them.
“Instead of helping us to evacuate the wounded, they are shooting at us. This is the Maliki government?” one man, calling himself Abu Ahmed, shouted indignantly about the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
Many of last week’s victims were pilgrims from Shi’ite Iran while the sprawling slum of Sadr City is a stronghold of support for anti-American Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
Targeting Shi’ites is a tactic used by al Qaeda and other Sunni Islamist insurgents to try to provoke sectarian clashes.
Body parts lay scattered around the smoking wreck of a car after the blasts while the wounded were piled into private cars, minibuses and on the back of a pick-up truck and rushed to hospital. Police vehicles cleared a way for the convoy.
The nearby shops set ablaze by one of the explosions included the popular Aziz al-Kaabi ice cream shop, which residents said is usually crowded with families in the late afternoon, the time the bombs went off.
The second car bomb appeared to have exploded around 60 meters (yards) away near an area of the market selling pets.
“I hold the Iraqi government and the army responsible for this explosion because of their inadequate security work,” said Baha al-Araji, a parliamentarian loyal to Sadr.
The violence ignited by the 2003 U.S.-led invasion has receded sharply over the past year but insurgents, including al Qaeda, still carry out frequent attacks.
There was more bloodshed around the Iraqi capital on Wednesday. In the mainly Shi’ite area of Hurriya, two bombs placed in parked cars near a Shi’ite mosque killed two people and wounded eight others.
In Hor Rijab, a Sunni village on the southwestern outskirts of the city, five people were killed and five others were wounded by a roadside bomb.
The government has pointed the finger at al Qaeda and members of Saddam Hussein’s banned Baath party for last week’s attacks. It has also said the capture of what it says is the leader of an al Qaeda-affiliated insurgent group, the Islamic State of Iraq, might provoke revenge attacks.
Many Iraqis also worry violence could increase as U.S. forces prepare to withdraw from city bases by the end of June and ahead of national elections due at the end of the year.
The elections will be a major test for Maliki whose popularity has grown as security improved in the oil-producing country.
Last year, Maliki waged offensives against Shi’ite gunmen and, along with U.S. forces, reclaimed much of Sadr City from Sadr’s Mehdi Army militia.
Writing by Missy Ryan and Michael Christie; Editing by Robert Woodward