Bombings in Iraq on Friday killed at least 76 people, making it the deadliest day in the country in over eight months. The blasts struck majority-Sunni parts of Baghdad and the surrounding areas, heightening concerns that the violence could descend into civil war. The attacks follow bombings that targeted Shi'ites earlier in the week, bringing the total number of deaths since Wednesday to 130 in the country which has been ravaged by violence ever since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. The violence has risen sharply since April when at least 36 Sunni Arab protesters were killed at a sit-in in Hawijah, with some fearing a "return to the massacres of 2006."
The violence has been growing since "Sunnis began protesting what they say is mistreatment at the hands of the Shiite-led government, including random detentions and neglect." According to Al Jazeera, the death toll for this year is already around 1,500 people and some Iraqi leaders already think the civil war has started.
According to the Associated Press, the deadliest blast in Friday's attacks:
"... struck worshippers as they were leaving the main Sunni mosque in Baqouba, 60 kilometers (35 miles) northeast of Baghdad. Another explosion went off shortly afterward as people gathered to help the wounded, leaving 41 dead and 56 wounded."
Further blasts reportedly hit a Sunni funeral procession in Madain, killing eight people and wounding 11, while a cafe in Fallujah was also struck, killing two people and injuring nine. In Baghdad, a bomb exploded near a shopping center in the neighbourhood of Amariyah, killing 21 and wounding 32, while another struck a commercial district in Dora, killing four with 22 injured.
The attacks bring the death toll this month to more than 300 people, as Jawad al-Hasnawi, a lawmaker with the bloc loyal to Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, warned people to "expect darker days full of even deadlier attacks." Along with others he blames the attacks on "the failure of government security forces."
According to the United Nations, sectarian violence killed 700 people last month, making it the highest month total in five years. The recent rise in violence was sparked by the killing of Sunni Arab protesters on April 23 by government soldiers. The Iraqi government has reportedly said that it will set up a commission to investigate the incident.
According to Patrick Cockburn, the Sunni demonstrations are part of a four-month-old protest movement against their treatment by the government, which varies "between denouncing them as terrorists and admitting that they have real grievances." Cockburn reports that "Sunni demonstrations, often taking the form of sit-ins in town and city squares, are now being guarded by well-armed fighters who set up their own checkpoints."
The U.S.-backed Iraqi government depends on an alliance between the Shiites and the Kurds, who "were oppressed by the Sunni-dominated regime of Saddam Hussein." A growing number of Iraqi politicians, however, blame Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for exacerbating the conflict between Shia and Sunni factions, accusing him of "permanently [alienating] the Sunni who view him with distrust." And there are calls for him to step down and for a more neutral figure to take charge of the country.
Residents in Baghdad are reportedly "stocking up on rice, vegetables and other foodstuffs in case they are prevented from getting to the shops by fighting or curfews" as the situation in a country destabilized following the U.S.-led invasion grows increasingly dire. And it doesn't look like it's going to get any better any time soon.