BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A suicide bomber detonated his explosive-filled taxi near a Shi’ite funeral procession in Baghdad on Friday, killing 31 people and bringing the death toll from violence since an Iraqi political crisis erupted in December to more than 400.
The bomber exploded his vehicle near the group of mourners passing by a small market street in the mainly Shi’ite Zaafaraniya neighborhood in the south of the Iraqi capital, police officials and hospitals said.
The Shi’ite-led government often blames Sunni Islamist insurgents for attacks targeting Shi’ites, saying they are trying to stoke the kind of sectarian slaughter which killed tens of thousands of Iraqis at the peak of the war in 2006-2007.
“I was in the old Zaafaraniya market when a funeral came by and just as it passed, a car bomb exploded,” said Ali Mohsen. “I helped evacuating the dead and injured people, their blood covered the ground.”
The funeral was for a Shi’ite real estate agent who was killed by gunmen in Baghdad a day earlier, police said. The motive for his murder was not clear.
But the suicide car bomber appeared to target the funeral near Zaafaraniya police station, blowing himself up close to shops and the market, said an official at the office of Baghdad security spokesman Qassim al-Moussawi.
Sunni insurgents also often target local government offices and police stations and patrols as a way to show the authorities are unable to provide security.
At least 60 people were wounded in Friday’s attack, officials said.
More than 320 people have been killed in attacks in Iraq since the start of the year alone and nearly 800 more wounded — more than double last year’s figure for violent deaths in January, according to government figures and a Reuters count.
Turmoil in Iraq has wider consequences in a region warily watching neighboring Syria’s increasingly sectarian crisis, and where Sunni Gulf Arab nations and heavyweight Turkey are trying to counter the influence of Shi’ite Iran.
Violence has eased since the heights of sectarian strife unleashed by the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that ousted Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein. But Iraqi forces are still battling Sunni insurgents tied to al Qaeda, and rival Shi’ite militias.
Iraq’s current crisis was triggered when Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s government sought the arrest of a Sunni vice president and asked lawmakers to remove a Sunni deputy prime minister just after the last U.S. troops left Iraq on December 18.
Maliki, a Shi’ite, says his moves against Sunni leaders were legal decisions and not politically motivated. But many Sunnis, already feeling alienated, worry measures are part of a drive by Maliki to consolidate his power at their expense.
The crisis threatens to break apart a fragile power-sharing agreement that splits posts among Shi’ite, Sunni and Kurdish blocs, but that has been hamstrung by political infighting since it was sealed a year ago.
Additional reporting Kareem Raheem and Jim Loney; writing by Patrick Markey; editing by Philippa Fletcher