BAGHDAD (AP) — The Iraqi branch of al-Qaida claimed responsibility Friday for bombings earlier this week that killed at least 82 people, mostly in Shiite areas of the capital, calling them retaliation for the execution of Sunni prisoners by the Shiite-led government.
Wednesday’s attacks involved car bombs and other explosives that mainly targeted parking lots, outdoor markets and restaurants in Shiite districts in Baghdad during the morning rush hour. Some Sunni areas were also hit later in the day.
A statement posted on a militant website by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the al-Qaida affiliate in Iraq, took responsibility for the deadly attacks. The group claimed the attacks were a response to the Aug. 19 execution of 17 Sunni prisoners, all but one of them convicted on terrorism-related charges.
The authenticity of the statement could not be independently confirmed. It was posted on a website commonly used by jihadists and its style was consistent with earlier al-Qaida statements.
It said tight security measures imposed by Iraqi forces failed to stop the attacks, and the group vowed to carry out more attacks against government targets.
"We will avenge the blood of our brothers," the group said.
The bombings were the latest in a wave of bloodshed that has swept Iraq since April, killing more than 4,000 people and worsening already strained ties between Iraq’s Sunni minority and the Shiite-led government. More than 570 people have been killed so far in August.
Al-Qaida is hoping to tap into the anger of more moderate Sunnis, who began holding rallies in December against the government over what they feel is their second-class treatment. Among their biggest grievances are the application of tough anti-terrorism measures they feel unfairly target their sect, and the treatment of Sunni detainees in Iraqi prisons.
Iraq has executed 67 people so far this year, mainly for terrorism-related charges. It put more people to death last year than any country except for China and Iran, according to Amnesty International. Human rights groups have raised questions about whether defendants receive a fair trial.
Also Friday, police said gunman on a speeding motorbike opened fire on Sunni worshippers as they were heading to a mosque to perform Friday prayer in the Sunni neighborhood of Adel in western Baghdad, killing two worshippers and wounding two others.
Attacks on Sunni mosques have been on the rise in recent months, raising fears that Shiite armed groups are starting to carry out retaliatory strikes. Most of the violence in recent years has been the work of Sunni extremists such as al-Qaida.
Police also reported five more people killed and eight wounded in attacks in Baghdad the previous night. That brought the number of people killed in Iraq just on Thursday to 29.
Medics in a nearby hospital confirmed the casualty figures for all attacks. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
Associated Press writer Adam Schreck contributed reporting.