Six car bombs exploded across Baghdad yesterday, killing 37 people and wounding more than 100, after the arrests of Sunni Arab fighters raised tension in the Iraqi capital.
A blast at a popular market in the Shia Muslim slum of Sadr City in east Baghdad killed at least 12 people and wounded 65. Another car bomb blew up next to labourers queuing for work, killing six people and wounding 17. Hours later, south Baghdad's Um al-Maalif neighbourhood was shaken by two blasts in a market, killing 12 people and wounding 32.
The latest attacks underscore the challenges Iraqi security forces face as US combat troops prepare to withdraw by 31 August 2010, with all US troops due to leave by the end of 2011. Overall violence has fallen in Iraq to levels not seen since just after the 2003 US invasion, but militants still commit large-scale bombings, especially in the capital and i *the north.
Preventing all car bombs in the crowded streets of Baghdad, a sprawling maze of crumbling buildings and concrete walls, housing five million people, is all but impossible.
Two other blasts shook a market area of Husseiniya, on Baghdad's northern outskirts, killing four people, and a street in eastern Baghdad, apparently targeting the convoy of an Interior Ministry official, killing two of his guards and a bystander.
"The explosion caused major damage to buildings and they even hurt some children," said Abdul-Jabar Saad, a shopkeeper who witnessed the attack. "God damn these people."
For a week, Iraq's Shia-led government has been arresting Sunni Arab fighters known as Majalis al-Sahwa (Awakening Councils). The government insists it is detaining only those wanted for serious crimes, but the fighters, many of them former insurgents, fear it is settling sectarian scores.
The Sahwas first switched sides and joined with the US to battle Sunni al-Qa'ida forces in late 2006, manning checkpoints and mounting raids throughout the country. Many have been killed in insurgent attacks.
The Iraqi government started taking control of them late last year, but mistrust runs deep. Some guards say they have not been paid for two months; Iraqi officials say an administrative glitch has now been fixed.