Baghdad: Al Qaeda in Iraq`s new leader warned Shiites on Friday that "dark days soaked with blood" lie ahead and that a new campaign of attacks was under way.
Within hours of the warning, a bomb exploded outside a Shiite mosque south of Baghdad just after Friday prayers, wounding 20, according to local police.
Only days before the warning, Iraq was wracked by the worst attack this year, a series of coordinated bombings and assassinations that killed 119 people — most of them Shiites and members of the security forces — across 10 cities.
The Iraqi insurgent umbrella group, the Islamic State of Iraq, named al-Nasser Lideen Allah Abu Suleiman as its new minister of war, replacing the Egyptian Abu Ayyub al-Masri, killed in a US-Iraqi military strike on a safe house in April. The ISI counts al Qaeda as one of its member groups.
"Wait for the long gloomy nights and dark days soaked with blood," said Abu Suleiman, addressing Iraq`s "polytheistic rejecters," an insulting term for Shiites common among extremist Sunnis. "What is happening to you nowadays is just a drizzle." He spoke in an audio recording posted on militant websites Friday.
One of the major doctrinal disputes between Sunnis and Shiites can be traced back to the first three rulers of the Muslim community after the Prophet Muhammad. Shiites reject those first three successors as illegitimate.
Al Qaeda attacks on Shiite shrines in 2006 plunged the country into a bloody cycle of mutual sectarian attacks. A measure of fragile calm, however, has returned to Iraq in the past two years.
There are fears that with the new rounds of attacks, mostly targeting Shiites, al Qaeda is hoping to provoke a backlash against Sunnis and re-ignite the sectarian warfare that brought the country to the brink of civil war.
Police in the regional capital of Hillah said Friday`s blast occurred in the Jabalah area, 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Baghdad, in a predominantly Shiite region. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press, said three of the wounded were in critical condition and warned the casualty toll might rise.
Abu Suleiman promised to "continue the path of jihad" and said his warriors had already begun "a new campaign of attacks on security and military checkpoints in Baghdad and elsewhere."
During Monday`s attacks, violence in Baghdad consisted mainly of early morning strikes against security checkpoints that killed nearly a dozen police and military officials.