Two men blew themselves up in a crowded Baghdad market on Thursday, killing at least 32 people in Iraq's first major suicide bombing for three years, authorities said, describing it as a possible sign of the reactivation of Islamic State.
Reuters journalists arriving after the blasts saw pools of blood and discarded shoes at the site of the bombings, a clothing market in Tayaran Square in the centre of the city. Health authorities said at least 110 people had been wounded.
“One [bomber] came, fell to the ground and started complaining ‘my stomach is hurting’ and he pressed the detonator in his hand. It exploded immediately. People were torn to pieces,” said a street vendor who did not give his name.
Iraq’s interior ministry said the second suicide bomber then blew himself up when people gathered to move the wounded from the first explosion.
The market had been teeming with people after the lifting of nearly a year of Covid-19 restrictions across the country.
The attack also comes as Iraqis prepare for national elections, which this week were delayed from June until October 10th. Elections in Iraq have often been preceded by bombings and assassinations.
The interior ministry ordered the city’s hospitals, already overwhelmed by the coronavirus pandemic, to treat the wounded. Bodies lined a corridor of at least one central hospital.
Mazen al-Saadi (34) said he was lucky to be alive. He was shopping in Tayaran Square with a friend when the blasts ripped through the market around them. “He was just a few metres in front of me. After the blast, he just vanished and I wasn’t able to find him – until now,” Mr Saadi told AFP.
After a few hours of searching, he had just located his friend’s body at the Sheikh Zayed morgue. Mr Saadi said he had anticipated a return to violence in his native Baghdad. “We were always thinking about the explosions coming back – we thought they could return at any moment, especially as the elections were getting closer,” he said.
While there was no immediate claim of responsibility, the strikes bore the hallmarks of the so-called Islamic State terror group, whose fighters swept across one-third of Iraq in 2014.
Suicide attacks, once an almost daily occurrence in the Iraqi capital, have halted in recent years since Islamic State fighters were defeated in Iraq in 2017, part of an overall improvement in security that has brought normal life back to Baghdad.
However, Islamic State has been attempting to reorganise in Iraq’s western deserts and near its eastern border. Though its leadership and rank and file have been decimated, it retains the capacity to launch small but devastating attacks.
At the height of Islamic State’s powers the terror group reached the approaches to Baghdad and was held back by a counteroffensive by militia groups and the Iraqi military, which had been splintered by Islamic State’s rapid gains. As the national military regrouped, Islamic State gradually withered, resorting to suicide bombings and killing officials, mainly in northern areas. Since 2017 it has rarely been able to penetrate security cordons near central Baghdad.
“Daesh terrorist groups might be standing behind the attacks,” Civil Defence chief Maj Gen Kadhim Salman told reporters in relation to the latest bombings, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.
Thursday’s attack took place in the same market that was struck in the last major suicide attack, in January 2018, when at least 27 people were killed.
Prime minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi held an urgent meeting with top security commanders to discuss Thursday’s suicide bombings, the premier’s office said in a brief statement. Iraqi security forces were deployed and key roads blocked to prevent possible further attacks.
Suicide attacks against civilian targets were a near-daily tactic of insurgents during the US occupation of Iraq after the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003, and were later employed by Islamic State. – Reuters/Guardian