BAGHDAD -- An apparently coordinated wave of bombings targeting Shia Muslims killed at least 78 people in Iraq yesterday, the second large-scale assault by militants since U.S. forces pulled out last month.
The attacks, which bore the hallmarks of Sunni insurgents, come ahead of a Shia holy day that draws hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from across Iraq, raising fears of a deepening of sectarian bloodshed. Rifts along the country's Sunni-Shia fault line just a few years ago pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war.
The bombings in Baghdad and outside the southern city of Nasiriyah appeared to be the deadliest in Iraq in more than a year.
Yesterday's blasts occurred at a particularly unstable time for Iraq's fledgling democracy.
A broad-based unity government designed to include the country's main factions is mired in a political crisis pitting politicians from the Shia majority now in power against the Sunni minority, which reigned supreme under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.
Some Iraqis blame that political discord for the lethal strikes.
"We hold the government responsible for these attacks. They [the politicians] are bickering over their seats and these poor people are killed in these blasts," said Baghdad resident Ali Qassim not long after the first bomb went off.
The attacks began during the morning rush hour when explosions struck the capital's largest Shia neighborhood of Sadr City and another district that contains a Shia shrine, killing at least 30 people, according to police.
Several hours later, a suicide attack hit pilgrims heading to the holy city of Karbala, killing 48, police said. That was near Nasiriyah, about 200 miles southeast of Baghdad.
Hospital officials confirmed the causalities. The dead and wounded numbered more than 100.
The blasts occurred in the run-up to Arbaeen, a holy day that marks the end of 40 days of mourning following the anniversary of the death of Imam Hussein, a revered Shia figure.
During this time, the pilgrims, many on foot, make their way across Iraq to Karbala, south of Baghdad.