Twenty-four people were killed and 33 injured in Baghdad tonight when a double car bomb attack ripped through the Iraqi capital just hours after lawmakers named a new president.
Two parked cars packed with explosives detonated in the upmarket Karradah district at around 7:20 PM local time as Iraqis gathered to break their Ramadan fast, security sources told VICE News. The first blast took place close to a restaurant, the other a few hundred feet away shortly afterwards. Black smoke billowed into the air as emergency vehicles with sirens blaring converged on the area.
Iraq's security situation has deteriorated rapidly since hardline Sunni militants led by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), now known as Islamic State, overran large swathes of northern Iraq in June. However, the country's leaders have been mired in political deadlock since April elections and struggled to form a new government to mount a cohesive response.
Local security analyst Ahmad al-Sharifi told VICE News that the attacks were "expected" given the poor security situation and political stalemate.
"The incompetence of commanders and absence of security and defense ministers led Iraq to this… insurgents now have more space and are free to conduct attacks easily," he said.
On the political side at least, slow progress is being made. Earlier in the day, Kurdish politician Fuad Masum was named as Iraq's new president. Masum, who was the first prime minister of autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan in 1992, won a decisive 211 to 17 vote victory after Kurdish factions arrived at a deal to support him last night.
The top three posts in the Iraqi government have, since the toppling of longtime autocrat Saddam Hussein, been divided between the country's three largest demographics, with the prime minister's post going to a Shiite, the parliamentary speaker's to a Sunni, and the presidency to a Kurd.
Sunni Salim al-Jabouri was chosen as speaker earlier this month, and Masum's appointment may pave the way for the final selection of a new prime minister. Incumbent Nouri al-Maliki has headed the government in a caretaker capacity since April and is seeking a third term in office, but his divisive policies have polarized the country and he has faced demands from his opponents, and even some of his onetime Shiite allies want him to step down.
Also today, 52 prisoners and nine policemen were killed in an attack on a prison bus travelling from Taji to Baghad, police sources told VICE News. Officials said that militants launched a "well organized assault" including gunfire, an IED explosion and suicide bombing.
"The terrorists attacks have been repeated against prisoners to exploit their deaths for political and media purposes, in order to embarrass the government and to harm the security forces," the Ministry of Interior said in a statement, referring to previous incidents and adding that it had formed a committee to investigate the case.
On June 23, 69 prisoners died while being transferred to a Baghdad jail. Officials said the convoy transporting the victims was attacked by militants and that some of the men were killed in the resultant firefight. However, sources told Reuters that the men were actually summarily executed by police. Just a few days before that, 44 prisoners died in Baquba, north of Baghdad. Again, the versions of events differed.
This bloodshed is taking place against a background of increased sectarian tensions. Between 2006 and 2007, Shiite and Sunni militias engaged in a cycle of brutal killings, usually unceremoniously dumping bodies by roadsides or in ditches and alleys. The situation eased for a time, but after the Islamic State's rapid advance across the country, sectarian violence appears to be on the increase again.
Shiite militias have reportedly been abducting Sunnis in areas around Baghdad, many of whom are later killed, while Sunni insurgents, likely to be at least affiliated with if not part of Islamic State, have also been carrying on a devastating bombing campaign. At least 24 people were killed in the northern Baghdad neighborhood of Kadhimiya on Tuesday night, while 10 more civilians and police died in other attacks during the day, police and health ministry sources confirmed to VICE News.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who is visiting Baghdad, voiced his worries about rising violence and urged politicians to form a power-sharing unity government.
"Iraq is facing an existential threat but it can be overcome through the formation of a thoroughly inclusive government — a government that can address the concerns of all communities, including security, political, social, and economic matters,” he told reporters during a press conference.
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