BAGHDAD (AFP) – A double suicide bombing killed at least 26 people in Baghdad Monday, in the second such attack in the Iraqi capital in three days, testing authorities who have declared victory over militants.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but most such attacks in Iraq are the work of the Islamic State militant group.
The bombing comes after Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s government declared victory over IS in December and as the country gears up for parliamentary elections.
“Two suicide bombers blew themselves up in Tayyaran Square in central Baghdad,” said General Saad Maan, spokesman for the Joint Operations Command, which includes the army and the police.
Abdel Ghani al-Saadi, health chief for east Baghdad, reported “26 dead and 90 wounded”.
Tayyaran Square is a bustling commercial centre and a place where day labourers gather in the early morning waiting for jobs. It has been the site of deadly attacks in the past.
Security forces cordoned off the scene of the bombing as ambulances gathered in the area, an AFP journalist said.
Abadi held an emergency meeting with the Joint Operations Command and intelligence officials after the bombing, his office said, asking them to “eliminate IS sleeper cells and protect the security of civilians”.
Analysts have warned that IS would increasingly turn to such attacks as it was pushed underground after losing territory spanning the Iraq-Syria border.
Elections in May
In December, the government announced the “end of the war” against IS, which has been expelled from the Baghdad region and urban areas of Iraq that it controlled.
Militant elements are still active however.
On Saturday, a suicide bomb attack near a security checkpoint killed at least five people in northern Baghdad. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for that bombing.
The bombings come as Iraq gears up for elections in May.
Abadi has said he will stand for re-election in the parliamentary polls as the head of a new coalition.
Abadi’s newly created “Victory Alliance” will compete against the “State of Law” bloc of Nuri al-Maliki, his predecessor and a key rival who now holds the post of vice president.
Both Abadi and Maliki are members of the Shiite Dawa party.
Abadi was little known when he became premier three years ago, after Maliki ceded power to him in August 2014 amid IS’s sweeping offensive across the country.
Since taking over, Abadi has also rebuilt the armed forces and taken back disputed areas in the north from the Kurds, dashing their hopes for independence.
He has also succeeded in convincing the Hashed al-Shaabi, a Shiite-dominated paramilitary force that helped fight IS, to join his “Victory Alliance”.
The Hashed, or Popular Mobilisation Units, are now seeking to become a key political player in Iraq after proving to be a formidable force on the battlefield.
In November, IS claimed an attack by suicide bombers on a market on the outskirts of Baghdad that killed 11 people.