Baghdad blasts: At least 32 killed, 110 injured; twin suicide bombings deadliest attack in Iraq since 2018

No one immediately took responsibility for the attack, but Iraq has seen assaults perpetrated by both the Islamic State group and other militia groups in recent months

FP Staff January 21, 2021 20:57:19 IST
Baghdad blasts: At least 32 killed, 110 injured; twin suicide bombings deadliest attack in Iraq since 2018

People and security forces gather at the site of a deadly bomb attack in Baghdad. AP

The toll in the Baghdad suicide bombings rose to 32 while the number of those injured rose to 110 in the deadliest attack on Iraq's capital since 2018.

Iraq's health minister Hassan Mohammed al-Tamimi said at least 32 people were killed and 110 were wounded in the attack. He said some of the wounded were in serious condition. Iraq's military previously put the number of dead at 28.

Twin suicide bombings ripped through a busy market in the Iraqi capital on Thursday.

The rare suicide bombing attack hit the Bab al-Sharqi commercial area in central Baghdad amid heightened political tensions over planned early elections and a severe economic crisis. Blood smeared the floors of the busy market amid piles of clothes and shoes as survivors took stock of the disarray in the aftermath.

No one immediately took responsibility for Thursday's attack, but Iraq has seen assaults perpetrated by both the Islamic State group and militia groups in recent months.

Iraq’s health ministry announced all of its hospitals in the capital were mobilized to treat the wounded.

The attack occurred as security forces pursued two suicide bombers who detonated their explosives in the market near Tayaran Square, according to military spokesman Yahya Rasool.

The market had been teeming with people following nearly a year of restrictions imposed across the country in a bid to halt the spread of COVID-19 .

AFP quoted an interior ministry statement as saying that the first suicide bomber rushed into the market, claiming to feel sick. Once a crowd of people had gathered around him, he detonated his explosives.

As people then flocked around the victims, a second attacker detonated his bomb, the ministry said.

Deadliest attack in Baghdad since 2018

The suicide bombings marked the first in three years to target Baghdad's bustling commercial area. A suicide bomb attack took place in the same area in 2018 shortly after then-prime minister Haidar al-Abadi declared victory over the Islamic State group.

A suicide bomb attack in Tayaran Square had killed more than 30 people in January 2018.

Suicide bombings had been commonplace in Baghdad during the sectarian bloodletting that followed the US-led invasion of 2003. Later on, as the Islamic State group swept across much of Iraq, its jihadists also targeted the capital.

But with the group's territorial defeat in late 2017, suicide bombings in the city became rare. Baghdad's notorious concrete blast walls were dismantled and checkpoints across the city removed.

Earlier, militias routinely targeted the American presence in Iraq with rocket and mortar attacks, especially the US Embassy in Baghdad's heavily-fortified Green Zone. However, the pace of those attacks decreased after an informal truce was declared by Iran-backed armed groups in October 2020.

The jihadist factions seized a third of Iraq in 2014 and were dangerously close to the capital, but a ferocious three-year fight by Iraqi troops pushed them back.

Still, the group's sleeper cells have continued to operate in desert and mountain areas, typically targeting security forces or state infrastructure with low casualty attacks.

Additionally, the US-led coalition that had been supporting Iraq's campaign against Islamic State has significantly drawn down its troop levels over the past year, citing the increased capabilities of Iraqi troops.

The United States, which provides the bulk of the force, has 2,500 troops left in Iraq — down from 5,200 a year ago. They are mainly in charge of training, providing drone surveillance and carrying out air strikes while Iraqi security forces handle security in urban areas.

Bombs disrupt preparation for election

Thursday's attack comes as Iraqis prepare for an election, events which are often preceded by bombings and assassinations. The 2018 attack took place just a few months before Iraq's last round of parliamentary elections.

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi had originally set this year's general election for June, nearly a year ahead of schedule, in response to widespread protests in 2019.

Demonstrators took to the streets in the tens of thousands last year to demand political change, and an end to rampant corruption and poor services. More than 500 people were killed in mass demonstrations as security forces used live rounds and tear gas to disperse crowds.

Authorities are in talks over rescheduling the polls to October in order to give electoral authorities more time to register voters and new parties.

Iraq is also grappling with a severe economic crisis brought on by low oil prices that has led the government to borrow internally and risk depleting its foreign currency reserves. The Central Bank of Iraq devalued Iraq's dinar by nearly 20% llast year to meet spending obligations.

With inputs from agencies

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