Twin suicide bombings ripped through a busy market in the Iraqi capital Thursday, killing at least 32 people and wounding dozens, officials said.
The rare suicide bombing hit the Bab al-Sharqi commercial area in central Baghdad amid heightened political tensions over planned early elections and a severe economic crisis. Blood was splattered on the pavement of the busy market amid piles of clothes and shoes as survivors took stock of the disarray in the aftermath.
No one immediately took responsibility for the attack, but Iraqi military officials said it was the work of the Islamic State group.
Iraq’s health minister Hassan Mohammed al-Tamimi said at least 32 people were killed and 110 were wounded in the attack. He said some of the wounded were in serious condition. Iraq’s military previously put the number of dead at 28.
The Health Ministry announced that all of its hospitals in the capital were mobilized to treat the wounded.
Maj. Gen. Tahsin al-Khafaji, spokesman for the Joint Operations Command, which includes an array of Iraqi forces, said the first suicide bomber cried out loudly that he was ill in the middle of the bustling market, prompting a crowd to gather around him — and that’s when he detonated his explosive belt. The second detonated his belt shortly after, he said.
“This is a terrorist act perpetrated by a sleeper cell of the Islamic State,” al-Khafaji said. He said IS “wanted to prove its existence” after suffering many blows in military operations to root out the militants.
At the Vatican, Pope Francis denounced the attack in Baghdad as a “senseless act of brutality” and urged Iraqis to keep working to replace violence with fraternity and peace. The telegram of condolences sent to the Iraqi president was particularly heartfelt, given Francis is due to visit Iraq in early March to try to encourage the country’s Christian communities that have been devastated by IS persecution.
Thursday’s twin suicide bombings marked the first in three years to target Baghdad’s bustling commercial area. A suicide bomb attack took place in the same area in 2018 shortly after then-Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi declared victory over the Islamic State group, a Sunni militant group.
Iraq has seen assaults perpetrated by both the Islamic State group and mostly Shiite militia groups in recent months. Militias have routinely targeted the American presence in Iraq with rocket and mortar attacks, especially the US Embassy in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone. The pace of those attacks, however, has decreased since an informal truce was declared by Iran-backed armed groups in October.
The style of Thursday’s assault was similar to those IS has conducted in the past. But the group has rarely been able to penetrate the capital since being dislodged by Iraqi forces and the US-led coalition in 2017. CURRENTPH