Iraq blasts kill 57 as political crisis deepens

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A soldier's boot and blood stains are seen on the ground after a bomb attack occurred in Alawi district in central Baghdad 22 December 2011. (Photo: REUTERS - Saad Shalash)

Published Thursday, December 22, 2011

A string of bombs ripped through Baghdad on Thursday, killing at least 57 people as Iraq falls deeper in a political crisis that threatens the country's fragile government.

The attacks began with the murder of a five-member family in the restive Diyala province, before coordinated blasts struck across the capital.

The bombs hit the Alawi, Bab al-Muatham, and Karrada districts of central Baghdad, the Adhamiyah, Shuala and Shaab neighborhoods in the north, Jadriyah in the east, Ghazaliyah in the west and Al-Amil and Dura in the south, officials said.

A wave of attacks in Baghdad Thursday killed 57 people as Iraq faced a political crisis, with its vice president accused of running death squads and the premier warning he could break off power-sharing.

The apparently coordinated blasts and the murder of a family-of-five in Diyala province were the first major sign of violence in a row that has threatened Iraq's fragile political truce and heightened sectarian tensions just days after US forces completed their withdrawal.

The Baghdad attacks, the deadliest in more than four months, largely coincided with the morning rush hour, and security forces cordoned off bomb sites, AFP correspondents and officials said.

Health ministry spokesman Ziad Tariq put the toll at 57 dead and 176 wounded in 10 attacks. An interior ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said 63 people were killed and 185 wounded.

Iraqi helicopters could be heard hovering overhead at many of the blast sites and emergency response vehicles rushed to the scene of attacks, while tightened security at checkpoints worsened Baghdad's already choking traffic.

"They didn't target any vital institutions or security positions," Baghdad security spokesman Major General Qassim Atta said. "They targeted children's schools, day workers, the anti-corruption agency."

Atta, who said there had been a dozen attacks across the city, said it was "too early to say" who was behind the violence.

A family of five -- parents, their two daughters, and a son -- were gunned down by insurgents in a suburb of the Diyala provincial capital Baquba, north of the capital, early on Thursday, medical and security officials said.

The father and son were both members of the anti-Qaeda Sunni tribal militia known as the Sahwa which sided with the US military from late-2006, helping turn the tide of the insurgency.

Thursday's violence was the worst since August 15, when 74 people were killed and more than 200 wounded in a series of attacks across 17 Iraqi cities.

The violence comes as political turmoil threatens to tear Iraq's fragile government apart, only days after final US troops withdrew after nine years of occupation.

Iraqi authorities issued an arrest warrant earlier in the week for Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi of the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc in a deepening row with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Al-Hashemi faces terror charges and is accused of running death squads, a charge he vehemently denies.

His Iraqiya bloc has suspended its participation in cabinet, while al-Maliki called for the sacking of al-Hashemi's deputy Saleh al-Mutlaq after he described the Shia-led government as a "dictatorship."

The Vice President is currently out of Baghdad's reach in the Iraqi Kurdish capital of Arbil. Al-Maliki has urged Kurdish authorities to hand al-Hashemi over to Iraqi authorities, pledging a fair trial.

Sources within al-Maliki's camp allege al-Hashemi was behind last month's bombing of the parliament building and the assassination attempt on the premier's life.

Political instability threatens to plunge Iraq into renewed sectarian conflict as violent attacks on civilians escalate.

(al-Akhbar, AFP)


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