On Monday, a suicide bomber detonated a car packed with explosives near a Shi’ite Muslim office in central Baghdad. The explosion killed at least 25 people and wounded over 190 others. The attack is believed to have been organised by an al-Qaeda affiliate in Iraq. It comes at a sensitive time as the nation’s touchy Shi’ite, Kurdish and Sunni blocs are locked in a crisis that threatens to undo their power-sharing agreement and run into fanatical tensions.
In the latest Baghdad attack, the suicide bomber targeted the Shi’ite Endowment. This is a body run by the government that manages Shi’ite cultural and religious sites. It has been in the middle of a row with the rival Sunni Endowment over control of a key shrine (Al Askari) in Samarra, the Sunni stronghold city. An attack on the shrine in 2006 sparked sectarian fighting for two years that killed tens of thousands of people. The blast left dead and wounded along a main street close by and turned part of the Shi’ite Endowment headquarters building into rubble.
Policeman Ahmed Hassan was posted at a police station nearby when the bomb was detonated. He says the explosion was powerful, sending smoke and dust to cover the area. At first, he couldn’t see anything but then heard screaming women and children. He and other officers rushed to help, and he saw body parts on the main street and wounded bystanders scattered around, he added. Security officials said evidence from the Monday attack pointed to a suicide car bomber. The bombing appears to have been carried out by Islamic State of Iraq, which is the Iraqi wing of al-Qaeda and often uses suicide bombers to attack cities.
Violence has eased in Iraq, but Sunni Islamist insurgents linked with al-Qaeda are still able to carry out devastating attacks and hit Shi’ite targets often to stir up sectarian pressure like what pushed the country near civil war five to six years ago. Last week, at least 17 people were killed in a truck bombing in a marketplace, several roadside explosions and a car bomb attack. This ended weeks of relative calm in the city, where daily attacks killed hundreds at the height of the war. More than 20 bombs hit towns and cities throughout the country in mid-April, resulting in 36 deaths. Responsibility for the attacks has been claimed by Islamic State of Iraq.
Since the last US troops left Iraq in December – nine years after an invasion led by the country – tensions have been running high in the nation’s politics. Critics of Shi’ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki have threatened to pursue a vote of no confidence against him. Many Kurdish and Sunni leaders say they fear he is shoring up power by sidelining them from power-sharing deals. However, his supporters say his critics have obstructed the government’s work for a while in an attempt to work more concessions from him.
As for travel advice to Iraq, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advises nationals to avoid all but essential travel to the nation due to a high threat of terrorism, which includes kidnapping and violence toward foreigners. However, they don’t advise any restrictions for travel to the Kurdistan Region, which includes the Dohuk, Sulaimaniyah and Erbil provinces. This is because the threat of terrorism is markedly lower in these areas than elsewhere in the country.
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