BAGHDAD – Iraqi officials said Friday that a blistering string of attacks across the country the previous day ultimately killed at least 93 people and wounded many more, as the extent of the violence grew clearer and mourners began to bury their dead.
It was Iraq's second deadliest day since U.S. troops left in December, surpassed only by a wave of coordinated killings last month. Thursday's attacks seemed meant to strike fear in Iraqis and undermine faith in the Shiite-led government's security measures ahead of what was supposed to be a festive holiday weekend.
"Al Qaeda wants to send a clear message to the Iraqi people that the terrorists are still strong and able to harm them despite the huge amount of funds spent on the Iraqi security forces," said Shiite lawmaker Hakim al-Zamili, a member of Parliament's security and defense committee. "The terrorists want to tell the Iraqi people that the security forces are still incapable of protecting them."
Officials had feared an upsurge in violence coinciding with the Eid al-Fitr holiday that marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan this weekend. Steps have been taken to ramp up security measures to protect the crowds who gather in public places such as mosques, parks and restaurants to celebrate the occasion.
Thursday's attacks began early in the north of Iraq and ended with deadly bomb explosions near busy markets, restaurants and ice cream parlors shortly before midnight.
Car bombs were to blame for many of the deaths, though attackers also deployed smaller explosives and shot some of the victims. A suicide bomber claimed seven lives when he blew himself up inside a teashop in Tal Afar, some 260 miles northwest of the capital.
Since the start of August, more than 190 people have been killed in violence across Iraq, showing that insurgents led by Al Qaeda's Iraqi franchise remain a lethal force eight months after the last U.S. troops left the country.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Thursday's strikes. Coordinated bombings and related attacks are a favorite tactic of the Al Qaeda offshoot, known as the Islamic State of Iraq.
Among the higher casualty numbers disclosed Friday were 21 people killed when a car bomb detonated shortly before midnight near an ice cream shop in Baghdad's predominantly Shiite Zafaraniyah neighborhood, according to police and hospital officials.
Another bomb exploded near an ice cream parlor and fruit and vegetable stalls in the capital's Sadr City, another poor Shiite district. The black, mangled body of a car sat in the middle of the street Friday. Broken plastic chairs and blood-stained fixtures littered the sidewalk. That blast killed 14, authorities said.
Officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the tallies to reporters.
Hassan Karim, 23, was in the Sadr City ice cream shop chatting with friends when the bomb went off.
"I saw a big flash, followed by thunderous noise. ... I opened my eyes to find myself in the hospital with my left hand bandaged," he said. "Before yesterday, we thought there were still safe places to sit and have a nice time with friends, but with this explosion we know there is no safe place in Iraq. All the best security measures could not stop terrorists from killing people."
Elsewhere in the neighborhood, dozens of people carried the coffins of relatives through the streets Friday. Some mourners wept, while others sought solace by chanting "God is great."
The attacks Thursday coincided with the release of a video purporting to show an Al Qaeda raid on the western town of Haditha in March. The SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks Islamist extremist messages, said the nearly 50 minute video was produced by the Islamic State of Iraq's media arm and posted on jihadist web forums Thursday.
Assailants in the Haditha raid killed 25 policemen, at one point raising the Al Qaeda battle flag, before most managed to escape into the desert.
Al Qaeda's Iraq branch has said it aims to make a comeback in predominantly Sunni areas from which it was routed by the U.S. and its local allies after sectarian fighting peaked in 2007. It has for years had a hot-and-cold relationship with the global terror network's leadership.
Both shared the goal of targeting the U.S. military in Iraq and, to an extent, undermining the Shiite government that replaced Saddam Hussein's regime. But Al Qaeda leaders Usama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri distanced themselves from the Iraqi militants in 2007 for also killing Iraqi civilians instead of focusing on Western targets.
Generally, Al Qaeda in Iraq does not launch attacks or otherwise operate beyond Iraq's borders. But in early 2012, al-Zawahri urged Iraqi insurgents to support the Sunni-based uprising in neighboring Syria against President Bashar Assad, an Alawite. The sect is an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
Thursday's attacks, which included several bombings in the ethnically mixed northern flashpoint of Kirkuk, were Iraq's deadliest in weeks.
On July 23, a string of coordinated blasts and shootings left 115 people dead. Al Qaeda later claimed responsibility for those attacks, which it said marked the start of a campaign called "Breaking the Walls" that was announced by the local insurgency's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.