Thursday, November 23, 2017

Car bomb blasts kill 34 as Iraqis await vote count

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BAGHDAD — Militants unleashed a wave of car bombings in Iraq on Tuesday, killing at least 34 people and sending thick, black smoke into the Baghdad skies in a show of force meant to intimidate the majority Shiites as they marked what is meant to be a joyous holiday for their sect.

The attacks came nearly two weeks after Iraqis cast ballots in the country's first parliamentary election since the U.S. military withdrawal in 2011. No preliminary results have been released, deepening a sense of uncertainty in a country strained by a resurgence of violence.

It was the deadliest day in Iraq since April 28, when militant strikes on polling stations and other targets killed 46.

An al-Qaida spinoff group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant claimed responsibility for the attacks, adding that they were in retaliation for military operations being carried out by government forces in Fallujah.

"We tell the spiteful Shiites and their government that we will save no efforts to target your gatherings and centers in all over Baghdad," said the statement.

The authenticity of the statement could not be independently verified, but its style was consistent with previous statements.

The militant group, made up of Sunni Muslim extremists, has strengthened control over parts of western Iraq, including the city of Fallujah and parts of Anbar provincial capital of Ramadi, since late December. It seeks to undermine the Shiite Muslim-led government's efforts to maintain security across the country.

All of Tuesday's blasts were caused by explosives-laden vehicles parked in public areas. They coincided with the Shiite communities' celebration of the birthday of Imam Ali, the Prophet Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law and the sect's most sacred martyr.

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