BAGHDAD (AP) — Bombs struck two Sunni towns at sundown Sunday just as Iraqis were preparing to break their holy day's fast, killing 18 and wounding more than 50, officials said. Two earlier bomb blasts killed a policeman and wounded dozens of people.
The multiple bomb attacks showed that deadly violence is still common and in some places even worsening in Iraq, seven months after the U.S. pulled its last troops out of the country. Most of the attacks bear the hallmarks of Sunni Muslim insurgents linked to al-Qaida, targeting Shiites and their holy sites as well as security forces working for the Shiite-led government.
The two latest bombings, however, struck predominantly Sunni towns. So far, Shiite militants have resisted striking back at Sunnis. It was not immediately clear if the Sunday bombings were retaliation for earlier attacks, but residents in the stricken areas raised fears of renewed sectarian conflict.
The first sundown attack, in the town of Mahmoudiya, was the deadliest — a double bombing in which the second seemed aimed at hitting people who came to help victims of the first blast.
A car exploded around 7 p.m. in a parking lot for minibuses in the town, about 20 miles (30 kilometers) south of Baghdad. As emergency responders sprang into action, a second car blew up, according to police at the scene.
Twelve people were killed in the double blast, including two policemen, officials said. Another 36 were wounded. A medic at Mahmoudiya public hospital confirmed the casualty toll.
"People are worried that these attacks might ignite sectarian violence again," said Ali Kamal, a 41, who owns a small warehouse for electric equipment close to the parking lot. "Especially when it coincides with the Syrian events."
Syria's bloody 17-month civil war between Sunni rebels and the regime of President Bashar Assad, a member of a Shiite offshoot sect, has reached the Syrian-Iraq border over the last few days. Rebels overtook two major border crossings between the two countries, although Syrian authorities wrested one of them back on Sunday. Nevertheless, the violence has terrified Iraqis who were living in Syria, thousands of whom have fled home to escape the fighting.
Sunday's attacks, striking three communities across the country, underscored how dangerous Iraq itself remains.
Kamal said women and children were among the wounded in Mahmoudiya, and many nearby shops and cars were heavily damaged. The parking lot is usually crammed with shoppers in the early evening.