At least 207 people were injured in the attacks, as bombers also struck near a primary school and a vegetable market and appeared to target the convoy of a leading bank official.
Analysts said the apparently coordinated attacks bore the hallmark of well-trained insurgents, who took advantage of the U.S. pullout and the escalating political turmoil between Iraq’s Shiite and Sunni leaders. Mark Toner, a spokesman for the State Department, said the attacks were “linked clearly to this vulnerable period after U.S. forces have withdrawn” and when the Iraqi government “is finding its feet and moving forward.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said that “things are unraveling, tragically,” after what he has criticized as a premature withdrawal of U.S. forces. Interviewed on the CBS “Early Show,” he said: “We won the war, and we’re losing the peace.’’
Most of the attacks — 15 of them — erupted during a two-hour spree that began 6:30 a.m., said officials at the Interior Ministry, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to make public statements.
No group asserted responsibility for the attacks, which were similar to previous ones carried out by the group al-Qaeda in Iraq. “From their perspective, it could not have been a better moment,” said Joost Hiltermann, deputy program director for the Middle East and North Africa at the International Crisis Group. “In times of political crisis, there are actors out there who want to push sectarian buttons. And I think that has happened.”
At least two more attacks erupted Thursday evening, including a car bomb that injured at least three civilians and explosive charges near houses and shops, according to government officials.
The violence comes just days after the end of U.S. combat operations in Iraq and — in the midst of a governmental emergency — threatens to rip apart the country’s fragile ruling coalition.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said the bombers will be punished. “I call upon all the religious men, the patriot powers and the tribes to support the security agencies in these very difficult circumstances,” he said in a statement.
But the bombings put him in a precarious spot. Hiltermann said most Baghdad residents just want to feel safe and receive basic services, such as electricity. In that context, he said, “they don’t really care who is running the country.”
The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad strongly condemned the attacks, saying, “It is especially important during this critical period that Iraq’s political leaders work to resolve differences peacefully, through dialogue, and in accordance with Iraq’s constitution and laws.”