BAGHDAD — A car bomb struck near a Shiite mosque in northern Baghdad as worshippers were leaving after prayers today, killing at least 18 in the latest deadly attack to strike the country, according to Iraqi authorities.
The blast follows months of heightened sectarian violence in Iraq, intensifying fears the country is slipping back toward the widespread bloodshed in the years that followed the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. The past several months have been the deadliest since 2008, when Iraq was pulling back from the brink of sectarian civil war.
The explosion went off as the heat of the day was easing after sunset and worshippers and shoppers filled the streets. The area targeted is known as Kasra, a predominantly Shiite enclave in a part of the city that is otherwise largely Sunni.
At least 40 people were wounded, according to two police officials.
A health official confirmed the casualty numbers. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to release the information.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility. Car bombings targeting Shiites are frequently the work of al-Qaida’s branch in Iraq, known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Today’s blast struck a day after bombings and a shooting killed at least 24 civilians in Iraq.
Militants are keeping up a high pace of attacks in an effort to capitalize on tensions between Iraq’s Sunni and Shiite Muslims, inflamed in part by the sectarian tensions reflected in the civil war in neighboring Syria.
Members of Iraq’s Sunni Arab minority have been protesting against the Shiite-led government, angered over what they see as second-class treatment against their sect and the unfair application of tough anti-terrorism measures.
Attacks surged after a deadly crackdown on a Sunni protest camp by security forces in April. The United Nations says more than 4,000 people have been killed over the past five months, including 804 in August.