Bombs targeting Sunnis in Iraq kill scores

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BAGHDAD -- Bombs ripped through Sunni districts in Baghdad and surrounding areas Friday, killing at least 76 people in the deadliest day in Iraq in more than eight months. The major spike in sectarian bloodshed heightened fears that the country could again be veering toward civil war.

The attacks followed two days of bombings targeting Shiites, including bus stops and outdoor markets, with a total of 130 people killed since Wednesday.

Scenes of bodies sprawled across a street outside a mosque and mourners killed during a funeral procession were reminiscent of some of the worst days of retaliatory warfare between the Islamic sects that peaked in 2006-07, as U.S. forces battled extremists on both sides.

Tensions have been intensifying since Sunnis began protesting what they say is mistreatment at the hands of the Shiite-led government, including random detentions and neglect. The protests, which began in December, have largely been peaceful, but the number of attacks rose sharply after a deadly security crackdown April 23 on a Sunni protest camp in northern Iraq.

Majority Shiites control the levers of power in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. Wishing to rebuild the nation rather than revert to open warfare, they have largely restrained their militias in the past five years or so, as Sunni extremist groups such as al-Qaida have frequently targeted them with large-scale attacks.

Nobody claimed responsibility for Friday's attacks, but the fact that they occurred in mainly Sunni districts raised suspicion that Shiite militants were involved. The bombs also were largely planted at the sites, as opposed to car bombings and suicide attacks that al-Qaida in Iraq and other Sunni insurgents are known to use.

The areas hit Friday were all former Sunni insurgent strongholds that saw some of the fiercest fighting of the U.S.-led war as sectarian rivalries nearly tore the country apart.

"It is not a coincidence that the attacks were concentrated in some areas of one sect and then moved the next day into areas of the other sect," said Jawad al-Hasnawi, a lawmaker with the bloc loyal to Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

It "is clear that terrorist groups such as al-Qaida and Baathists are trying hard to reignite the sectarian war in Iraq," he said. "But the government bears full responsibility for this security chaos, and it has to take quick and serious measures in order to stop the bloodshed, instead of just blaming other political blocs."

Mr. Hasnawi added: "Today and yesterday, the Iraqi people paid for the failure of government security forces. Everybody should expect darker days full of even deadlier attacks."

It was the deadliest day since Sept. 9, 2012, when 92 people were killed, according to an Associated Press tally. The attacks on Sunnis came after two days of car bombs targeting Shiite areas in Baghdad and other attacks that left 33 dead Wednesday and 21 dead Thursday.

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