Car bombs struck two outdoor markets and a group of taxi vans in Shia areas across Iraq, killing at least 36 people and wounding nearly 100.
It was the bloodiest day in more than two months, as minority Sunnis staged mass anti-government protests in a sign of mounting sectarian tensions. Tens of thousands of Sunni protesters rallied in five major cities against the Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, a Shia accused of monopolising power. Sunnis also complain of official discrimination.
Sunni protest leaders have rejected a call by an al-Qai’da-linked group to take up arms against the government, but there is concern that militants are trying to exploit the discontent. During a rally in the city of Samarra, Sheik Mohammed Jumaa sent a warning to the Prime Minister. “Stop tyranny and oppression,” he said. “We want our rights. You will witness what other tyrants have witnessed before.”
In the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi in the western Anbar province, demonstrators blocked the main highway to Jordan and performed Friday noon prayers, the highlight of the religious week. Anbar province is a former al-Qa’ida stronghold.
Other rallies were held in Mosul and Tikrit, as part of weekly Sunni demonstrations that were sparked by the arrests of bodyguards of a senior Sunni politician in December.
Earlier yesterday, suspected Sunni insurgents detonated five car bombs, killing at least 36 people and wounding 97, health officials and police said.