Scores die in Iraq car bombings
Scores of people have died as more than a dozen explosions, mainly from car bombs, ripped through marketplaces, car parks, a cafe and rush-hour crowds in Iraq.
The attacks, killing at least 58 people, have pushed the country's death toll for the month of July toward the 700 mark, officials said.
The bombings - 18 in all - are part of a wave of bloodshed that has swept across the country since April, killing more than 3,000 people and worsening the already strained ties between Iraq's Sunni minority and the Shiite-led government. The scale and pace of the violence, unseen since the darkest days of the country's insurgency, have fanned fears of a return to the widespread sectarian bloodletting that pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war after the 2003 US-led invasion.
With two days left in July, the month's death toll now stands at 680, according to an Associated Press count. Most of those have come during Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of dawn-to-dusk fasting that began on July 10, making it Iraq's bloodiest since 2007.
"Iraq is bleeding from random violence, which sadly reached record heights during the holy month of Ramadan," said acting UN envoy to Iraq, Gyorgy Busztin. He said the killings could push the country "back into sectarian strife," and called for immediate and decisive action to stop the "senseless bloodshed."
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the
attacks, but the Interior Ministry blamed al-Qaida's Iraqi branch and accused it of trying to widen the rift between Sunnis and Shiites.
"The country is now facing a declared war waged by bloody sectarian groups that aim at flooding the country with chaos and reigniting the civil strife," the ministry said in a statement posted on its website.
Sunni extremist groups such as al Qaida's Iraqi branch, known as the Islamic State of Iraq, frequently use co-ordinated blasts like those today to try to break Iraqis' confidence in the Shiite-led government and stir up sectarian tensions.
The US Embassy in Baghdad stressed that the United States "stands firmly with Iraq in its fight against terrorism."
Iraq's violence escalated after an April crackdown by security forces on a Sunni protest camp in the northern town of Hawija that killed 44 civilians and a member of the security forces, according to UN estimates. The bloodshed is linked to rising sectarian divisions between Iraq's Sunnis and Shiites as well as friction between Arabs and Kurds, dampening hopes for a return to normality nearly two years after US forces withdrew from the country.