BAGHDAD (AP) — Militants detonated explosives-laden cars around two busy markets in central Iraq on Monday, killing 22 people and wounding dozens, the latest in a wave of violence ravaging the country.
Attacks in Iraq have spiked to levels not seen since 2008. The surge in bloodshed, which follows months of protests by the country's Sunni Arab minority against the Shiite-led government, is raising fears that Iraq is heading for another bout of sectarian violence.
Monday's deadliest attack occurred in Diyala province when three parked car bombs exploded virtually simultaneously around a wholesale fruit and vegetable market at the height of business in the town of Jidaidat al-Shatt. The town is just outside the provincial capital of Baqouba, about 60 kilometers (35 miles) northeast of Baghdad.
The blasts killed 15 people and wounded 46. Soon after the explosions, security forces sealed the roads linking Baqouba to Baghdad in an apparent effort to prevent further attacks.
Shortly after midday, another car bomb went off near a fish market in the northern Baghdad suburb of Taji, killing seven shoppers and wounding 25, police said.
Baqouba and the surrounding Diyala province was once the site of some of the fiercest fighting between U.S. forces and insurgents in Iraq, and it remains a hotbed for terrorist attacks. The area is religiously mixed, and witnessed some of the worst atrocities as Shiite militias battled Sunni insurgents for control in the years after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
The three car bombs used in the attack near Baqouba were deployed in different locations in and around the market in order to inflict most damage and casualties, police officials said. One of the vehicles was a pickup truck loaded with produce that was parked inside the market itself.
Last Friday, Diyala was the site of another deadly bombing. A suicide attacker drove an explosives-laden car into a bus carrying Iranian Shiite pilgrims visiting holy shrines in Iraq, killing 11 and wounding more than two dozen. The attack took place in the town of Muqdadiyah, about 90 kilometers (60 miles) north of Baghdad.
Provincial councilman Sadiq al-Husseini blamed that attack and Monday's bombing in the produce market on al-Qaida-linked groups.
"When the grip is tightened on these groups, they resort to random attacks on residents and foreign pilgrims in order to show to the people that they are still active," he said. "Our security forces still lack intelligence and bomb detecting equipment" to stop such attacks, he added.
Medics in nearby hospitals confirmed the casualty figures for both of Monday's attacks. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks — as has been the case for much of the violence in recent weeks — but coordinated car bombings in civilian areas are frequently the work of al-Qaida's front group in Iraq, known as the Islamic State of Iraq.
According to the United Nations, at least 1,045 Iraqi civilians and security personnel were killed in May. The tally surpassed April's 712 killed.
Associated Press writers Adam Schreck and Sameer N. Yacoub contributed to this report.
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