BAGHDAD (AP) — A wave of bombings struck outdoor markets in Shiite-dominated neighborhoods of Baghdad on Tuesday, killing at least 54 people, officials said — the latest in deadly militant attacks far from the front lines in the country’s north and west where Iraqi forces are battling the Islamic State group.
In an online statement, IS claimed responsibility for the deadliest bombing of the day, which took place in Baghdad’s northeastern Shaab neighborhood and where at least 28 people were killed and 65 others were wounded.
In that attack, a roadside bomb first exploded outside the concrete blast walls surrounding the open-air market, followed by a suicide bomber who blew himself up as people gathered to help the victims of the first explosion, a police officer said.
The IS statement said the attack was carried out by an Iraqi who targeted members of Shiite militias. The Associated Press could not verify the authenticity of the statement but it was posted on a militant website commonly used by extremists.
A bit after the Shaab attack, a parked car bomb struck a fruit-and-vegetable market in the Shiite-dominated neighborhood of Dora, in southern Baghdad, killing eight people and wounding 22 others, another police officer said.
In Baghdad’s eastern Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City, a suicide car bombing hit a crowded outdoor market, killing 18 people and wounding 35 others.
Medical officials confirmed the casualty figures. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to talk to reporters.
Commercial and public places in Shiite-dominated areas are among the most frequent targets for the Sunni militants seeking to undermine the Iraqi government efforts to maintain security inside the capital. Since its blitz in the summer of 2014, IS has controlled significant areas in northern and western Iraq, including the country’s second-largest city of Mosul.
A wave of bombings in and around Baghdad over the past week has killed almost 200 people. But the Islamic State has not confined its latest attacks only to Baghdad.
Earlier Tuesday, Iraqi oil workers resumed work at a natural gas plant north of Baghdad, two days after a coordinated IS dawn assault left at least 14 people dead there, a senior Oil Ministry official said.
Sunday’s spectacular attack in the town of Taji, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of Baghdad, saw a suicide car bombing at the facility’s main gate, followed by several IS fighters breaking into the plant where they clashed with security forces for hours before the attackers were repelled.
The dead included six civilians and eight security forces while 27 Iraqi troops were wounded. Closed-circuit television images showed an explosion that sent thick black smoke rising above the plant. As flames engulfed the facility and nearby palm trees, pedestrians were seen running for cover. The top of one of the gas-processing units was blown off.
It took hours before Iraqi troops repelled the attackers.
On Tuesday, work at the plant’s three production lines returned “to normal levels,” said Deputy Oil Minister Hamid Younis.
The plant was back to full capacity of producing 30,000 cooking gas cylinders a day, he said, adding that Sunday’s attack had only damaged two gas storages and a few pipelines. Iraqi state TV showed workers in navy blue overalls filling metal and plastic cylinders on conveyor belts and forklift trucks loading cylinders into trucks.
The assault on Taji came as Islamic State militants are being pushed back along several front lines in Iraq, prompting the Sunni extremists to increasingly turn to insurgency-style attacks to detract from their losses.
IS-claimed attacks have killed more than 140 people since last week in Iraq. In 2014, the IS declared an Islamic caliphate on the territory it holds in Iraq and Syria and at the height of its power was estimated to hold nearly a third of both Iraq and Syria. Iraq’s government says the group’s hold has since shrunk to 14 percent of Iraq’s territory.