Islamic State militants and bombers killed at least 12 people in a busy market area of Baghdad on Monday while a double blast at a cafe north of the Iraqi capital claimed another 30 lives.
An attack claimed by the Islamic State group [IS] and involving suicide explosions, gunfights and hostage-taking in the eastern predominantly Shia neighbourhood of Baghdad al-Jadida wreaked chaos.
"The attack killed 12 people, including security forces and civilians. A car bomb exploded outside a restaurant 200 metres from Jawahir Mall, killing 8 people and wounding 20," a security official toldThe New Arab.
"Baghdad security forces arrived at the scene and stormed the mall then the gunmen retreated without confronting them," the official said.
He added that police have closed all roads into Baghdad to prevent gunmen from coming in and carrying out other attacks.
Salman Hussein, a witness, said: "A car came, gunmen came out of it and spread out. They started shooting, killing people, there were lots of dead people."
The shocked young man, wearing a black track suit, recounted how one of the attackers held a shop owner and spoke on a mobile phone before detonating his suicide belt.
|IS claimed that a total of 90 people were killed [Getty]|
The head of Baghdad Operations Command, Lieutenant General Abdelamir al-Shammari, insisted to reporters on the scene that the situation was quickly brought under control.
He denied reports by several officials in the Baghdad police and in the interior ministry that the attackers held several people hostage in the nearby Zahrat Baghdad mall.
But a senior police officer said the attackers entered the mall and took hostages after blowing up a car bomb and spraying gunfire on the street.
"When the security forces got too close, they killed three hostages," he said. Several other sources gave a similar account of events.
The sequence of the attack, a departure from IS' usual modus operandi in Baghdad, remained unclear and the statement posted by the jihadists online provided few details.
It said the attack was carried out by "four soldiers of the caliphate" and targeted Shias.
It said one of the IS members blew himself up in an explosives-laden vehicle when "the apostates sent reinforcements".
IS claimed that a total of 90 people were killed or wounded but the group has exaggerated the number of casualties caused by its attacks in previous such statements.
"These people were shooting everywhere, there was even one guy with an RPG," said Fadhel, another witness from Baghdad al-Jadida.
"I saw the body of small child strewn on the ground over there, human flesh... What were the sins these people committed to deserve this?", he said.
Police and hospital sources put the casualty toll from the attack, one of the worst to hit Baghdad in months, at 12 dead and more than 30 wounded.
Almost simultaneously, in the late afternoon, bombings killed at least 30 people at a cafe in the town of Miqdadiyah northeast of Baghdad, security officers said.
A bomb exploded at the cafe and a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-rigged vehicle after people gathered at the scene, a police captain and an army colonel said.
"Suicide bombers blew themselves up late this afternoon at a cafe frequented by young people in the town of Miqdadiyah northeast of Baghdad, killing 30 people and wounding 40 others," a local source toldThe New Arab.
Diyala police spokesman Attia al-Karkhi said that police had put in place a curfew in and around Miqdadiyah.
IS also claimed the Miqdadiyah attack and named the suicide bomber as Abu Abdallah, an Iraqi.
The security officers said that Shias set alight several Sunni homes and a mosque following the attack.
The mixed province of Diyala, where Miqdadiyah is located, was declared liberated by the government almost a year ago but attacks have continued.
Iraq's intelligence services announced on December 24 they had dismantled a major IS cell and made 40 arrests in Baghdad and Diyala.
At least three people were killed and eight wounded in another car bomb blast in Nahrawan, south of Baghdad.
Monday's combined attacks made for one of the worst days of violence in months in areas that are not active frontlines.
IS has suffered a number of military setbacks across Iraq in the past year. Security officials say fierce battles and relentless air strikes have depleted its manpower.
Analysts see that as a reason for the drop in attacks targeting civilians in the capital which were an almost daily occurrence two years ago.