A suicide attacker blew himself up in a market south of the capital Baghdad on Friday, killing at least 21 people while another bomb in a nearby city wounded five others, police and medical officials said.
Explosions are common in Iraq and have killed hundreds of people this year alone. The blasts have been ongoing as government forces and their allies have scored victories against the Islamic State group that has claimed responsibility for much of the attacks.
The officials said the Friday morning blast in a market in the village of Musayyib killed 21 and wounded 30. The medical officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
“It was a very ugly incident,” said Falah Khafaji, head of the security committee in the southern province of Babil where Musayyib is located. He added that the attack occurred as people were out shopping during Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting.
The blast came hours after a bomb exploded in the Shia holy city of Karbala near Mussayyib, wounding five people.
Shortly after the two blasts occurred, the ISIS-linked Aamaq news agency said the group was behind both attacks. It said both were carried out by suicide attackers wearing explosive vests.
Musayyib and Karbala are predominantly Shia Muslim, a sect that ISIS reviles and considers heretics.
The vfiolence comes as Islamic State is about to lose Mosul, the de-facto capital of the hardline Sunni Muslim group in Iraq, to a U.S.-backed Iraqi offensive launched in October. The group is also on the backfoot in neighbouring Syria, retreating in the face of a U.S.-backed Kurdish-led coalition attacking its capital there, Raqqa,.
Meanwhile, human rights organizations warned that large numbers of civilians are being killed and injured in western Mosul because Iraqi and U.S.-backed coalition forces are relying on the use of heavy weapons as they struggle to push ISIS from the city.
Air-delivered bombs are causing excessive and disproportionate damage to civilian life and property, which is prohibited under international humanitarian law, organizations including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the Center for Civilians in Conflict warned.
Their combined report released Thursday also pointed to the use of artillery systems, including heavy mortars and locally fabricated rocket launchers that lack a guidance mechanism, and are therefore inherently imprecise and indiscriminate.
“Such disproportionate military attacks are prohibited under international humanitarian law,” the report said.
Mosul’s eastern half was declared liberated in January, and the push for the city’s western section, separated from the east by the Tigris River, began the following month.
The use of powerful and often inaccurate weapons is problematic because a very large number of civilians — as many as 180,000, according to the United Nations — remain in the ISIS-controlled areas of the city, now little more than four square kilometres. The situation is made more difficult by ISIS practice of using civilians as human shields and stopping people from leaving.
Many of the recently retaken areas of western Mosul are reduced to rubble, in some cases with entire families killed in airstrikes or shelling.
Amran Waabdullah Jumaa, 35, said his mother was killed on 12 May in an airstrike outside their house in the 17 Tammouz district. They buried her in the garden along with another woman who had died in the same strike.
“She was killed by these American smart bombs or whatever they call them,” he said.
Ahmed Najim Abdullah, 27, a resident of the Zanjili district of western Mosul, lost three members of his family when their house collapsed on them after an airstrike. He was trying to dig the rest of them out from under the rubble when another rocket hit, injuring him in several places.
“It’s well known that the houses there are very old, the missiles weigh over 200 kilos, it hits the house and when it hits one house the next four or five houses will collapse with it too,” he said in his hospital bed in Irbil.
Military analysts say that Iraqi and coalition forces rely on these weapons because they are trying to minimize their own casualties, which have been considerable. According to a recent U.S. Defense Department report, Iraqi special forces have suffered a staggering 40 per cent casualty loss in Mosul so far.
The U.S.-led coalition estimates that its airstrikes unintentionally killed at least 484 civilians between the start of the Mosul campaign and June 2. Airwars, the United Kingdom-based non-governmental organization that monitors airstrikes, believes the real number may be as high as 3,800. These numbers do not include the number of people who have been killed by artillery shelling, for which there is no reliable estimate.