At least 28 people have been killed and 70 others injured in a twin suicide bombing at a crowded commercial area in Iraq’s capital, Baghdad, officials say.
The bombers blew themselves up at a clothing market in Tayaran Square as they were pursued by security forces.
The last deadly suicide attack in the city was in January 2018, when 35 people were killed in the same square.
No group has said it carried out the latest attack, but suspicion will fall on the jihadist group Islamic State.
The Iraqi government declared victory in its war against IS at the end of 2017.
However, sleeper cells continue to wage a low-level insurgency in the country, operating mainly in rural areas and targeting security forces.
Iraqi military spokesman Yehia Rasool said Thursday morning’s attack was “carried out by two suicide bombers who detonated themselves when pursued by security forces” through the Bab Sharqi area.
The bombers targeted an open-air market for second-hand clothes in Tayaran Square, which was busy following the easing of almost a year of coronavirus-related restrictions.
An interior ministry statement said the first bomber rushed into the market, claiming to feel sick. When people gathered around him he detonated an explosive belt he was wearing.
“One [bomber] came, fell to the ground and started complaining ‘my stomach is hurting’ and he pressed the detonator in his hand. It exploded immediately,” one stall holder told Reuters news agency. “People were torn to pieces.” The second bomber detonated as others came to help the victims, according to the interior ministry.
A video posted on social media purportedly showed the second bomb exploding among a small crowd on a street. Other footage showed bodies strewn across the ground in the aftermath.
Ambulances rushed to the scene to take the many wounded to hospitals across Baghdad.
Thursday’s bombings were not immediately claimed, but Civil Defence chief Maj-Gen Kadhim Salman said: “[IS] terrorist groups might be standing behind the attacks.”
Suicide bombings have become rare in the capital since the military defeat of IS by Iraqi security forces, who were supported by a US-led multinational coalition and Iran-backed paramilitary forces. IS once controlled 88,000 sq km (34,000 sq miles) of territory stretching from eastern Iraq to western Syria and imposed its brutal rule on almost eight million people. A report by the UN secretary-general released last August estimated that more than 10,000 IS fighters remained active in Iraq and Syria.
The fighters, organised in small cells, were moving freely across the border between the two countries and some had managed to find safe haven in the Hamrin mountains of north-eastern Iraq, from where they were carrying out a “war of attrition” against Iraqi security forces, it said.
US-led coalition forces in Iraq reported in October that IS was relying mainly on improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and small-arms fire in its attacks. Most were recorded in the northern provinces of Diyala, Salahuddin, Kirkuk and Nineveh, and in the western province of Anbar, it said.
The bombings in Baghdad come days after Iraq’s government said an early general election would be postponed from June until October in order to give electoral authorities more time to register voters and new parties.