BEIRUT -- Iraq suffered its latest spasm of apparently sectarian bombing attacks Wednesday, as more than a dozen explosions struck Baghdad and a broad swath of the country, leaving scores of people dead and hundreds injured.
Many of the victims were Shiite Muslim pilgrims out to honor one of their sect’s most revered saints.
Coordinated bombings shook the capital, the southern city of Hillah and the northern city of Kirkuk, among other sites. The now-familiar images of bloodied corpses, shattered storefronts and stunned survivors abounded in the stricken locales.
Wire service reports indicated at least 16 explosions took place.
Authorities said the death toll was at least 65 nationwide, but it seemed certain to rise, possibly surpassing the 78 killed in a slew of bombing attacks on Jan. 5, the deadliest so far this year.
Iraq has seen a steady stream of such bombings this year, most targeting the majority Shiites.
“I saw pieces of torn clothes, spots of blood, scarves, shoes,” said Hassan Ali Kadhim, who was among the Shiite pilgrims walking to a shrine and saw the carnage in the capital’s Karada district, the site of a bombing. “I think our politicians are responsible, directly or indirectly.”
The Karada explosion, described as a car bomb blast, was among the deadliest single attacks, leaving at least 16 dead and 32 wounded.
Iraq has been suffering from a protracted political paralysis, with Shiites, Sunni Arabs and Kurds failing to reach a satisfactory power-sharing arrangement.
Shiite pilgrims have long been a favorite target for militant extremists from the rival Sunni Muslim sect. Iraqi security forces have been unable to stop the bombings, which have continued regularly since U.S. troops left in December.
Shiites also appeared to be the targets in at least two earlier blasts this week in Baghdad, including a Monday car bombing outside a Shiite religious office that killed 26 and wounded nearly 200.
On Wednesday, the Shiite pilgrims were out in force, with tens of thousands having descended on the Kadhimiya area of Baghdad to mark the anniversary of the 8th century death of Imam Musa Kadhim. A golden-domed shrine honors the revered imam.
Iraq’s Shiite-led government has left many members of the once-dominant Sunni population alienated and sidelined. Authorities suspect Sunni extremists, possibly linked to Al Qaeda, carried out Wednesday’s attacks and other recent bombings.
Violence is down from the days of the grisly sectarian war between Shiites and Sunnis in 2006 and 2007, but well-planned bombing strikes are still a regular feature of Iraqi life.
Wednesday’s attacks began about 5 a.m., authorities said, when a car bomb detonated near Baghdad’s northern gate, killing at least seven pilgrims and wounding almost two dozen more. Many of the dead were from one family, authorities said.
Explosions began to go off at a regular interval in Baghdad and elsewhere, authorities said. A car bomb near a stand providing food to pilgrims near Baghdad’s Adhamiya district killed seven people and injured 24, authorities said.
Two car bombs were reported in the largely Shiite city of Hillah, apparently targeting a pair of restaurants frequented by police officers. The blasts left at least 21 dead and 50 injured, authorities said.
Another mostly Shiite city, Balad, north of Baghdad, was also hit by a pair of car bombs, authorities said, leaving at least half a dozen dead.
A Kurdish political office was the target of a car bomb in the northern city of Kirkuk, which has a large Kurdish population.
Several police officers in Baghdad were also reported killed in shootings.
-- Patrick J. McDonnell
Photo: Iraqi policemen inspect the remains of a car used in a bomb attack in the city of Hillah, south of Baghdad, on Wednesday. Credit: Khider Abbas / European Pressphoto Agency