BAGHDAD — A string of bombings in Shiite Muslim neighborhoods in eastern Baghdad left as many as two dozen people dead and reflected Iraq’s heightened sectarian tensions in the wake of nearly two months of Sunni protests.
The bombs went off around 11 a.m., with three explosions in the Shiite slum of Sadr City and three in other nearby neighborhoods. Preliminary news reports put the death toll at 21 to 28, with more than 100 wounded. The attacks were the deadliest this month in the nation’s capital and came amid anti-government demonstrations in Sunni regions of the country that began in late December.
The stalemate between the government and Sunni protesters has aggravated the already brittle relationship between Iraq’s newly ascendant Shiite majority and its Sunnis, who dominated the country’s leadership until the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003.
In eastern Baghdad’s Sadr City, people gathered at one of the bomb sites hours after the blasts, voicing disgust with their government and blaming unidentified Sunni political figures for the attacks. The response reflected the anxiety and suspicion among ordinary Shiites toward the Sunni demonstrations.
“The Sunni agenda is being implemented to kill innocent Shiites,” shouted one man, who didn’t give his name. “I lost my close friend Naim today; he was fixing car batteries. He leaves his wife and seven daughters. Who will support them now?”
A second man demanded to know why cars were allowed into an area that he said was usually sealed off. “How do these vehicles get through the checkpoint. Tell me how!” he said.
The attacks came as Al Qaeda in Iraq has tried to play off the alienation of Sunnis, who have protested in Fallujah, Ramadi, Samarra, Kirkuk and Baghdad, demanding an end to arrests by secret informants and the release of detainees. Protesters have threatened to march on Baghdad, prompting a warning from senior members of the government.
A local correspondent in Baghdad contributed to this report