01/21/2021, 16.00
IRAQ
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Thirty dead and 70 wounded in twin Baghdad attack. Pope, Bishop Warduni express sorrow

Two suicide bombers hit an open-air market in central Baghdad. Several seriously injured people were taken to hospitals in the capital, which had not experienced such violence for a while. No one has yet claimed responsibility but fingers point to the Islamic State group. “[W] did not expect it,” said Baghdad’s auxiliary bishop. Pope Francis sent his condolences.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) – After a long period of relative calm, the Iraqi capital was hit by a serious terror attack this morning.

The attack “hit the centre of the city” and “surprised everyone; we did not expect it and it is difficult to understand what happened,” said Mgr Shlemon Audish Warduni, auxiliary bishop of Baghdad and right-hand man of the Chaldean patriarch, Card Louis Sako, speaking to AsiaNews.

Pope Francis sent a telegram of condolences. “We are waiting to gather more information, for the rest we have to wait,” said Bishop Warduni.

The twin suicide bombing killed more than 30 people and injured 70 around noon in an open-air market in al-Tayaran Square, central Baghdad. This comes after a long hiatus of relative quiet.

The death toll is not final and the number of victims is destined to increase in the coming hours. Several injured people, some of them in serious condition, were taken to city hospitals.

A similar attack in the same square in 2018 resulted in 31 dead. The last major attack in Baghdad occurred in June of last year. Pope Francis is scheduled to visit the city during his trip to Iraq on 5-8 March.

The pontiff is closely following the evolution of the Iraqi situation and, through the Secretary of State Card Pietro Parolin, sent a telegram of condolences to President Barham Salih.

In his message, the pope says that he was “deeply saddened” and deplored “this senseless act of brutality”. He added that he prays “for the deceased victims and their families, for the injured and for the emergency personnel in attendance.”

“Trusting that all will continue work to overcome violence with fraternity, solidarity and peace, Pope Francis invokes upon the nation and its people the blessing of the Most High.”

So far no group has claimed responsibility but given the type of action, fingers point to the Islamic State (IS) group. Although defeated militarily, the group still has active cells across the country and thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is regaining ground.

After the fall of Mosul, a former IS stronghold, the group claimed responsibility only for small-scale attacks, carried out mostly at night against military posts in isolated areas.

According to the first witness accounts, two suicide bombers blew themselves up among shoppers.

The first suicide bomber rushed into the market and claimed to feel sick so that people would gather around him. He then detonated his explosives. As people gathered around the victims, a second attacker detonated his bomb.

For Baghdad this is the most serious attack in the last three years. Crowds had begun gathering again in markets lately, after months of closures and restrictions due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Meanwhile, the country is preparing for a general election, which have provided an opportunity for violence. In fact, attacks preceded the 2018 vote.

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi chose June for the election, partly in response to mass protests in October 2019 that sparked a crackdown by the previous government. However, for organisational and bureaucratic reasons, the electoral commission postponed the vote to October.

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