BAGHDAD — Islamic State suicide bombers spread carnage across the Iraqi capital on Wednesday, killing scores in the bloodiest day in Baghdad this year, even as the group is losing ground on the battlefield.
As many as 93 people were killed in the blasts, marking an escalation in attacks on civilians, particularly in predominantly Shiite neighborhoods.
The Islamic State has lost more than a third of the territory it once held in Iraq, and security officials say they expect that the militant group will continue to attempt similarly devastating attacks in an effort to distract from its setbacks.
“This is the worst attack on Baghdad for a long time,” said Saad al-Muttalibi, a member of the Baghdad provincial council’s security committee.
“After every defeat ISIS receives at the front, in the actual war, they launch an attack on Baghdad,” he added, using an alternative acronym for the Islamic State.
In a statement circulated online, the militant group warned of “worse to come.”
Even now, despite the Islamic State’s degraded capability, the key city of Mosul remains under its control two years after it was overrun by the group. On Monday, James R. Clapper Jr., the U.S. director of national intelligence, said in a Washington Post interview that efforts by the United States and Iraq to retake Mosul “will take a long time and be very messy.”
“I don’t see it happening in this administration,” Clapper said.
The bombings also come at a time of political turmoil in Baghdad. On Wednesday, politicians and security officials traded blame for the violence.
The worst attack occurred in one of the busiest markets in Sadr City, a neighborhood that is a major support base for Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Sadr has led calls for political reform, including firing Iraq’s ministers and replacing them with technocrats.
His followers dramatically breached Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone late last month and ransacked parliament.
Residents of Sadr City took to the streets after the bombings on Wednesday, directing their frustration at the government and security forces.
“We already had a lot of anger, that’s why we stormed the Green Zone,” said Karrar Ali, a 35-year-old lawyer from Sadr City. “Now people are more angry and blame the government for failing to protect them.”
Ali, who said he arrived at the bomb site about half an hour after the attack, said he was met with a “terrifying scene.”
“There was smoke, fire, human flesh,” he said. “Everyone was in a state of confusion.”
In a gruesome yet familiar scene, witnesses described wooden market carts being used to carry the dead and injured after the bombing.
The Shiite neighborhood in eastern Baghdad has suffered two other large-scale market bombings in the past year, killing a total of 140 people. The Islamic State, a Sunni group, considers Shiite Muslims to be apostates.
Officials at the neighborhood’s two main hospitals, to which victims’ bodies were taken, said 50 people died in the market attack Wednesday. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to give the information to the news media.
The Health Ministry, however, put the toll from the market attack at 40, while the Associated Press reported that 63 were killed.
At one hospital, more than half of the bodies were those of women and children.
“The market was so crowded,” said Haider Salah, 28, a taxi driver who witnessed the attack. “At that time of the morning, the market is filled with women and their children.”
Just hours after the market blast, an explosion occurred at a checkpoint on the outskirts of the Shiite neighborhood of Kadhimiyah in the north of the city.
A man wearing a suicide belt detonated the explosives at a point where civilians are searched as they enter the neighborhood, killing two police officers and four others, according to the Baghdad Operations Command.
A third suicide attack followed at a checkpoint on a road that leads to Kadhimiyah, indicating that the neighborhood, home to Baghdad’s most important Shiite shrine, was probably the intended target.
Riyadh al-Moussawi, a spokesman for Kadhimiyah Hospital, to which the dead from both blasts were taken, said 27 people were killed in the two attacks. The AP, citing police, put the toll at 30.
The attacks on Baghdad come as the Islamic State has suffered several reversals on the battlefield.
Last month, it lost its grip on the town of Hit , in the western province of Anbar. To the north, security forces have been preparing for an attack on Mosul.
In its claims of responsibility on Wednesday, the Islamic State called the attacks the “invasion of Sheikh Abu Ali al-Anbari,” referring to one of the group’s leaders, who was killed in Anbar.
The State Department condemned the attacks in Baghdad, stating that it is committed to helping Iraqi security forces expel the Islamic State from its territory and cut off its financial, foreign-fighter and propaganda networks.
“These cowardly attacks will only harden the resolve of Iraqis and the international community to utterly destroy this group and its warped ideology,” spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said.
U.S. officials have also expressed concern about Iraq’s ongoing political crisis, which has undermined U.S.-backed Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
Abadi is under pressure to enact the government changes for which Sadr and his supporters are pushing, but he is struggling to get enough lawmakers together to hold a vote.
Sadr’s political jockeying and street protests have also highlighted divisions in the Shiite community, raising the specter of potential clashes among the country’s myriad militias.
Interior Minister Mohammed Salem al-Ghabban, who is affiliated with the Badr Organization, a powerful Shiite militia, has criticized Sadr’s protest movement and accused it of creating chaos.
Sadr supporters on Wednesday accused Ghabban of failing to prevent the attacks.
Ghabban has been “busy securing his own chair and his own party” and has neglected to secure the people, said Hakim al-Zamili, a lawmaker and commander in Sadr’s militia, the Peace Brigades.
For its part, the Interior Ministry condemned anyone using the bombings as a pretext to launch verbal attacks on the security forces.
“Our country is facing a dangerous challenge and it is not reasonable to attack the security forces out of revenge,” it said in a statement.
Carol Morello in Washington contributed to this report.