BAGHDAD: Two days of attacks across Iraq killed at least 100 people, officials said, including an attack on a primary school that left several children dead.
Violence in Iraq is at a level unseen since 2008, amid persistent fears of a relapse into the kind of intense Sunni-Shiite bloodshed that peaked in 2006-2007 and killed tens of thousands.
In the capital Sunday, a suicide bomber detonated explosives near pilgrims who were walking to a shrine in the north of the capital Baghdad to commemorate the death of Mohammad al-Jawad, the ninth Shiite imam.
The blast killed at least nine people and wounded 30 others, officials said.
A bus parked near the site of the explosion had a streak of blood running from a shattered window down its side.
Pieces of flesh hung from a roadside tree, and blood was spattered on a pavement and the underside of a bridge.
Two young boys sifted through debris at the site, where items including sandals and a policeman’s belt buckle lay in a pool of water formed when emergency personnel hosed the street down.
“We are not afraid of the explosion, we are not afraid of death,” said Hussein Haidar, a pilgrim who was walking to the shrine after the attack.
Even after the blast, security forces performed only cursory searches of people entering the area.
Iraq is home to some of the holiest sites in Shiite Islam, and millions of pilgrims visit them each year.
But crowds of pilgrims are frequently targeted by Sunni militants including those linked to Al-Qaeda, who consider Shiites to be apostates.
Elsewhere in the capital Sunday, suicide bombers detonated explosives-rigged vehicles at a police station and a primary school, killing 15 people and wounding 44, local official Abdulal Abbas told AFP.
The dead were 10 children and five police, Abbas said, adding that the school bombing collapsed the building’s roof.
Sunday is a normal schoolday in Iraq, where the weekend is observed Friday and Saturday.
A bomb also exploded in east Baghdad Sunday, killing at least two people and wounding 10, while two blasts in the northern province of Kirkuk killed a Kurdish security forces member and wounded another.
Sunday’s blasts came a day after violence including an attack on Shiite pilgrims in Baghdad and a suicide bombing at a cafe killed at least 73 people.
Among them were two journalists from the Sharqiya television channel gunned down in Mosul.
Iraq has come in for repeated criticism over shortcomings in media freedoms and protections.
“Many Iraqi journalists are routinely exposed to threats, murder attempts, attacks, difficulties obtaining permission, denial of access, confiscation of equipment and so on,” media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders said this year.
U.N. envoy Nickolay Mladenov called on Iraq’s “political, religious and civil leaders to work together with the security forces” to curb the bloodshed.
“It is their responsibility to ensure that pilgrims can practice their religious duties, that schoolchildren can attend their classes, that journalists can exercise their professional duties, and that ordinary citizens can live a normal life,” Mladenov said in a statement.
British Ambassador Simon Collis, meanwhile, said:
“This latest example of violence against worshippers and journalists is further evidence of terrorists seeking to create division within Iraq.”
Diplomats and analysts say the Shiite-led government’s failure to address the grievances of Iraq’s Sunni Arab minority – which complains of political exclusion and abuses by security forces – has driven the surge in unrest.
Violence worsened sharply after security forces stormed a Sunni Arab anti-government protest camp in northern Iraq on April 23, sparking clashes in which dozens died.
The authorities have made some concessions aimed at placating anti-government protesters and Sunnis in general, such as freeing prisoners and raising the salaries of Sunni anti-Al-Qaeda fighters, but underlying issues remain.
And while security forces have carried out wide-ranging operations against militants for more than two months, they have yet to succeed in curbing the wave of attacks.
The latest violence takes this month’s death toll to more than 4,850 since the beginning of the year, according to AFP figures based on security and medical sources.