BAGHDAD (AP) — A car bombing claimed by the Islamic State group struck a bustling commercial area of central Baghdad overnight, killing at least 12 civilians, Iraqi officials said on Tuesday.
The explosives-laden pick-up truck was left in a parking lot in the Shiite-dominated district of Karradah, near a hospital and shops, a police officer said. Up to 28 people were wounded and at least 15 cars were damaged, he said.
A medical official confirmed the casualty figures. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
Mourners held a funeral procession for some of the dead on Tuesday morning, with men carrying coffins wrapped in Iraqi flags as women wailed and pounded their chests in grief.
At the scene of the bombing, shocked residents examined the blood-stained pavement and the damage to nearby shops.
The Islamic State group issued a statement saying the suicide attack targeted Shiites. The Associated Press could not verify the authenticity of the statement, but it was posted on militant websites commonly used by the extremists.
Karradah is a major commercial area of the capital. Its streets are lined with clothing and jewelry stores, restaurants and cafes. The area is usually packed with shoppers, especially ahead of next week’s Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice, which marks the end of the annual hajj pilgrimage.
In early July, an IS-claimed bombing killed nearly 300 people in Karradah as Iraqis were preparing for the Eid al-Fitr holiday, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan. The Karradah disaster put the Iraqi government under pressure to improve security in the capital and to rein in corruption.
Monday’s attack came nearly two weeks after authorities reopened the sealed off part of Karradah where the July bombing took place, in an attempt to restore normalcy to the district.
In recent months, IS militants have turned to insurgency-style attacks in public areas far from the front lines after Iraqi government forces and allied militias pushed the extremists out of many areas they had captured in western and northern Iraq during a mid-2014 blitz.
Late last month, Iraqi forces retook the town of Qayara, about 70 kilometers (45 miles) south of the IS-held city of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. A string of villages and towns south and southeast of Mosul have also been recaptured as part of an operation launched in March aimed at eventually unseating IS from Mosul itself. It’s the biggest city still under militant control in Iraq.
The militants set fire to a number of oil wells around Qaraya, first in an attempt to thwart airstrikes and then, when they withdrew, to leave behind a ruined prize.
On Tuesday, the spokesman for the Iraqi Oil Ministry, Assem Jihad, said that teams had extinguished fires in six wells, removed bombs planted nearby and stopped crude oil leaking into the Tigris River. Jihad added that there were still three wells on fire but that they are in areas under IS control.
The U.N. World Food Program painted a grim picture of Qayara, describing the situation there as “dire.” Black smoke is still billowing from burning oil wells while safe drinking water, electricity and medical services “remain nearly impossible to access,” WFP said.
“All of its shops were either destroyed or closed and food stocks were running dangerously low, with people surviving on wheat from the recent harvest,” the statement said.
In cooperation with local partners, WFP distributed desperately needed food for more than 30,000 people in and around the town, as well as to 2,000 displaced people living in camps and with host families in areas surrounding it.
The Iraqi government is now gearing up for a major offensive to retake the northern city of Mosul from IS. It pledged to recapture the city this year.
Associated Press writers Murtada Faraj in Baghdad and Jamey Keaten in Geneva contributed to this report.