BAGHDAD — Car bombs ripped through Shiite and Kurdish targets in Baghdad and other cities Wednesday, killing at least 66 people, wounding more than 200 and feeding growing doubts that Iraq will emerge as a stable democracy after decades of war and dictatorship.
The latest bloodshed comes against a backdrop of sharpening political divisions that show Iraq has made little progress in healing the breach among its religious and ethnic communities that once pushed the country to the brink of civil war. The attack bore several hallmarks of al-Qaida and its Sunni militant allies seeking to exploit these tensions.
Iraqi authorities played down any suggestion that the devastating attacks that have taken place every few weeks or so since the U.S. military withdrew in mid December portend a return to the all-out, tit-for-tat violence that tore the nation apart in 2006 and 2007.
"Iraqis are fully aware of the terrorism agenda and will not slip into a sectarian conflict," Baghdad military command spokesman Col. Dhia al-Wakeel said.
But Iraqi authorities have been unable to prevent such wide-scale attacks, even though they were on high alert during a major Shiite pilgrimage. And the number and distribution of these bombings demonstrate the strength and resilience of Sunni militants.
Altogether, 17 explosions struck Baghdad and six other cities and towns some 300 miles apart, from Mosul in the deserts of the north to Hillah in the plains of the south.
Most targeted Shiite pilgrims between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m. as hundreds of thousands were making their way on foot to the capital.
The blasts were the third this week targeting the annual pilgrimage to observe the eighth century death of Moussa al-Kadhim, a saint who was Mohammed's great-grandson.
The processions will converge on a golden-domed shrine in Baghdad's northern neighborhood of Kazimiya. The commemoration culminates Saturday.