BAGHDAD — A wave of bombings targeting Shiites killed 72 people Thursday, deepening sectarian tensions that exploded after the last American troops left the country in mid December.
The coordinated attacks bore the hallmarks of Sunni insurgents linked to al-Qaida, although there was no immediate claim of responsibility.
The bombings began in the morning when explosions hit two Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad, killing at least 27 people. A few hours later, a suicide attack hit pilgrims heading to the holy Shiite city of Karbala, killing 45, said provincial official Quosay al-Abadi. The explosions were near Nasiriyah, about 200 miles southeast of Baghdad. Hospital officials confirmed the causalities.
The blasts occurred in the run-up to Arbaeen, a Shiite holy day that marks the end of 40 days of mourning that follow the anniversary of the death of Imam Hussein, a revered Shiite figure. During this time, Shiite pilgrims from across Iraq make their way to Karbala, south of Baghdad.
Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, a Baghdad military spokesman, said the attacks' aim is "to create turmoil among the Iraqi people."
The new violence will only exacerbate the country's political crisis pitting politicians from the Shiite majority who dominate the government against the Sunni minority, which reigned supreme under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.
Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government issued an arrest warrant for the top Sunni politician last month. The Sunni official, Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, is holed up in Iraq's semiautonomous Kurdish region in the north, effectively out of reach of state security forces.
Fears have already been high that the sectarian tensions could reignite Shiite-Sunni warfare that just a few years ago pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war.