Bombs hidden in plastic bags near a falafel stand exploded at a market in a mainly Shiite area in Baghdad on Sunday, killing at least eight civilians and wounding 21, Iraqi officials said. It was the latest in a series of bombings targeting Shiites and minorities in the capital and northern Iraq.
The U.S. military has said insurgents are trying to re-ignite sectarian bloodshed that pushed the country to the brink of civil war but Shiites so far have shown restraint.
The bags packed with explosives were left among a pile of garbage and exploded shortly before 8 p.m. as the district was crowded with people enjoying the evening.
Several nearby stores were also damaged, according to police and hospital officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to release the information. Five children were among the wounded, they said.
The spike in violence follows the June 30 withdrawal of American troops from urban areas, heightening concerns about the ability of Iraqi forces to protect the people. Political tensions have also risen further as the country prepares for national elections scheduled for January.
Violence has fluctuated throughout the year, but the intense period of bombings in recent days has indicated a more sustained effort, with nearly 160 people killed in blasts since Aug. 7.
Raad Nasir, 26, owns a cell phone store in the area and was on his way to the falafel stand when the blast occurred.
"After I saw the horrible scene, I rushed home," he said. "We were starting to be happy that our area was safe and not like before, but now the terrorists have resumed their cowardly crimes against civilians."
Mindful of the fears, the Iraqi government announced Sunday that it has indefinitely postponed a nationwide census after warnings that it could stoke ethnic and political tension.
The population count, which had been scheduled for Oct. 24, would have settled controversies over the size of the country's religious and ethnic communities. It also had implications for decisions over the fate of the oil-rich area of Kirkuk as well as the budget allocation for the self-ruled Kurdish region in the north.
"The Planning Ministry is technically ready for the census, but after hearing some fears and reservations from political groups in Kirkuk and Ninevah, we decided to stall and the census has been postponed indefinitely," Planning Minister Ali Baban told reporters during a visit to the Shiite holy city of Najaf.
Many lawmakers had called for it to be postponed until after January's parliamentary elections, arguing that war has caused radical change in the sectarian makeup of many areas and the results could ignite new tension.
After decades of repression, Iraq's majority Shiites rose to power with the 2003 fall of Saddam Hussein after the U.S. invasion. Much of the insurgency that followed was driven by the once-dominant Sunnis, who felt disenfranchised. Militants from both communities drove the country to the brink of civil war in 2006 and 2007.
That bloodshed has ebbed, but U.S. commanders have warned that Arab-Kurdish tensions over land and oil in northern Iraq could provoke a new round of violence.
Sunni lawmaker Osama al-Nujaifi, whose brother Atheel is the provincial governor of Ninevah province, noted that large numbers of Kurds had moved into the Kirkuk area, raising Arab concerns that they seek to take control.
The census results also would have determined the Kurds' fair share of the national budget.
Iraq's government has allocated about 17 percent of its budget for the Kurds since Saddam's fall, based on the assumption that the figure reflects their percentage of Iraq's population.
But some Shiite and Sunni politicians claim Kurds should be cut back to about 14 percent. After much haggling, the Kurds held onto their 17 percent of the 2009 budget, pending the census.
It would have been the first nationwide census since 1987. A count conducted 10 years later excluded the three province that comprise the Kurdish region. The 1997 census put the country's population at more than 26 million.
Associated Press Writer Mazin Yahya contributed to this report.
Source: AP News