BAGHDAD (AP) — Two suicide bombers blew themselves up at a busy street market in central Baghdad on Monday, in back-to-back explosions that killed at least 38 people, Iraqi health and police officials said — the deadliest attack since last month’s declaration of victory over the Islamic State group.
The bombings came just two days after a suicide bomber struck a police checkpoint in northern Baghdad, killing eight people there.
No group has so far claimed responsibility for either attack but they bore all the hallmarks of IS, which has claimed many such attacks in the past.
Monday’s bombers struck during rush hour in the city’s Tayran Square, which is usually crowded by laborers seeking work. The twin explosions also wounded at least 105 people, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
Ambulances rushed to the scene as security forces sealed off the area with yellow tape. Slippers could be seen scattered about on the blood-stained pavement as cleaners hurried to clear the debris. Photographs posted on social media showed lifeless bodies and pieces of limbs.
The twin explosions shocked residents in the Iraqi capital because large attacks had decreased significantly in Baghdad and other parts of country since security forces retook nearly all territory once held by IS militants.
Munthir Falah, a vendor who sells secondhand clothes at the street market, survived Monday’s attack with shrapnel injuries to his chest and right leg.
“It was a tremendous, I felt the ground shaking under my feet,” he described the explosions to The Associated Press. “I fell on the ground and lost conscious to find myself later in the hospital.”
Falah, a father of three, blamed the government forces for not doing enough to secure the capital and its residents.
“They think that Daesh is done with the territorial loses and they do not bother themselves to exert efforts to secure Baghdad,” he said, using the Arabic name for IS.
Jalal Ali, owner of a mobile phone store, recounted how he saw bodies of some of those killed in the explosion lying on the street as he stepped off a minibus.
“Me and others on the bus were so shocked to see this,” said Ali, adding that he sought shelter between nearby cars and walls. He said he expected such attacks after the government announced national elections for May.
“I’m sure they will increase,” he said.
Iraqi Parliament Speaker Salim al-Jabouri denounced the attack as a “cowardly act against innocent people” and called on the government to take all necessary security measures.
Iraqi and U.S. officials have warned that IS would continue with insurgent-style attacks even after the Iraqi military and U.S.-led coalition succeeded in uprooting the Islamic State group across the country.
The cost of victory has been nearly incalculable as the three years of war against IS devastated much of northern and western Iraq — roughly a third of the country — where Islamic State militants had held most of the territory.