Twin suicide bombings have ripped through a busy market in the Iraqi capital, killing at least 32 people and wounding dozens, officials said.
The rare suicide bombing attack hit the Bab al-Sharqi commercial area in central Baghdad amid heightened political tensions over planned early elections and a severe economic crisis.
Blood smeared the floors of the busy market amid piles of clothes and shoes as survivors took stock of the disarray in the aftermath.
Iraq’s health minister Hassan Mohammed al-Tamimi said at least 32 people were killed and 110 others were wounded in the attack.
He said some of the injured were in serious condition.
The country’s Health Ministry announced all of its hospitals in the capital were mobilised to treat the wounded.
Major General Tahsin al-Khafaji, spokesman for the Joint Operations Command, which includes an array of Iraqi forces, said the first suicide bomber cried out loudly that he was ill in the middle of the bustling market, prompting a crowd to gather around him – and then detonated his explosive belt.
The second detonated his belt shortly after, he said.
“This is a terrorist act perpetrated by a sleeper cell of the Islamic State,” Maj Gen al-Khafaji said.
He said so-called Islamic State (IS) “wanted to prove its existence” after suffering many blows in military operations to root out the militants.
The suicide bombings marked the first in three years to target Baghdad’s bustling commercial area.
A suicide bomb attack took place in the same area in 2018 shortly after then-prime minister Haidar al-Abadi declared victory over IS.
No-one immediately took responsibility for Thursday’s attack, but Iraq has seen assaults perpetrated by both IS and militia groups in recent months.
Militias have routinely targeted the American presence in Iraq with rocket and mortar attacks, especially the US embassy in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone.
The pace of those attacks, however, has decreased since an informal truce was declared by Iran-backed armed groups in October.
The style of Thursday’s assault was similar to those IS has conducted in the past.
But the group has rarely been able to penetrate the capital since being dislodged by Iraqi forces and the US-led coalition in 2017.
The twin bombings came days after Iraq’s government unanimously agreed to hold early elections in October.
Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi had announced in July that early polls would be held to meet the demands of anti-government protesters.
Demonstrators took to the streets in the tens of thousands last year to demand political change, and an end to rampant corruption and poor services.
More than 500 people were killed in mass demonstrations as security forces used live rounds and tear gas to disperse crowds.
Iraq is also grappling with a severe economic crisis brought on by low oil prices that has led the government to borrow internally and risk depleting its foreign currency reserves.
The Central Bank of Iraq devalued Iraq’s dinar by nearly 20% last year to meet spending obligations.