BAGHDAD — A barrage of car bomb and suicide bomb blasts rocked Baghdad and two northern communities Thursday, killing at least 51 people during a major holiday period and extending a relentless wave of bloodshed gripping the country.
The bulk of the blasts struck the Iraqi capital shortly after nightfall. Authorities reported seven car bomb explosions across Baghdad, including one near a playground that killed two children.
Iraq is weathering its deadliest outburst of violence since 2008, raising fears the country is returning to the widespread sectarian killing that pushed it to the brink of civil war in the years after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
The bloodshed began early Thursday when a suicide bomber blew up his explosives-laden car among houses in an ethnic minority village in northern Iraq. That attack, in the Shabak village of al-Mouafaqiyah near the restive city of Mosul, 360 kilometers (225 miles) northwest of Baghdad, killed at least 15 and wounded 52, police said.
The United Nations envoy to Iraq condemned the attack and said rising violence in Ninevah province requires "urgent action and strengthened security cooperation" between regional authorities and the central government.
"The United Nations pays particular attention to the protection of minority communities who continue suffering from heinous attacks (and) economic and social barriers," envoy Nickolay Mladenov said.
Another suicide bomber struck hours later, setting off an explosives belt inside a cafe in Tuz Khormato, killing three and wounding 28, police chief Col. Hussein Ali Rasheed said.
The town, a frequent flashpoint for violence, sits in a band of territory contested by Arabs, Kurds and Turkomen about 200 kilometers (130 miles) north of Baghdad.
The attacks struck as Muslims around the world this week mark the religious holiday of Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice. It is often a time for family celebrations and outings.
The Baghdad explosions went off in quick succession as families were heading out to parks, coffee shops and restaurants in the evening, police said.
Back-to-back car bombs exploded about two blocks away from each other in the mainly Shiite neighborhood of Husseiniyah, killing a total of 11 and wounding 22, authorities said.
Other mainly Shiite neighborhoods hit were the southeastern New Baghdad, where four died and 12 were wounded, and the eastern Sadr City, where a bomb near a playground killed five, including two children, and wounded 16, officials said.
Police also reported that a suicide bomber drove a car packed with explosives into a police checkpoint in the southern district of Dora, killing five people, including three police officers, and wounding nine.
Two parked car bombs exploded near an outdoor market and shops in the mixed Shiite and Christian neighborhood of Garage al-Amana, killing eight and wounding 15, officials said.
Hospital officials confirmed the casualties. Officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to release the information.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Thursday's blasts, though suicide bombings and car bombings are a favorite tactic of Al-Qaida's local branch. It frequently targets Shiites, whom it considers heretics, and those seen as closely allied to the Shiite-led government in Baghdad.
The U.N. reported 979 people killed violently in Iraq last month. More than 300 more people have died in attacks in Iraq so far this month, according to an Associated Press count.
Associated Press writer Sameer N. Yacoub contributed reporting.
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