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BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq's Sunnis fleeing the fighting in western Anbar province have provided a cover for Islamic State militants to carry out a wave of bombings that struck Baghdad, political and security officials in the Iraqi capital claimed on Friday — an assertion vigorously disputed by Sunni lawmakers.
The spike in bombings in Baghdad in the past week, with multiple blasts each day, has raised residents' suspicions over the flood of displaced fleeing the fighting in nearby Anbar province. On Thursday night alone six bombings killed 21 people and wounded scores.
Fighting in Anbar's provincial capital of Ramadi sent at least 110,000 refugees fleeing towards Baghdad over the past two weeks and they are now living on the outskirts of the city.
"We cannot deny the fact that there is a link between the recent attacks in Baghdad and the entry of displaced families from Anbar, which has been used by the terrorists to send large amounts of explosives and Daesh members into Baghdad," Baghdad council member Ghalib al-Zamili told The Associated Press, referring to the Islamic State group by its Arab acronym.
One of Thursday's car bombs in Baghdad was traced to one of the displaced who recently arrived in the city, added al-Zamili.
An Interior Ministry official said explosives were found in three cars driven by the displaced Sunnis to Baghdad, adding that "it's highly likely that there is a connection between the entry of these displaced people from Anbar to Baghdad and the rise of the car bomb attacks in the capital." He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Baghdad residents were suspicious of the displaced from the start and when the exodus started, the displaced Sunnis from Anbar were stopped from entering the Iraqi capital unless they could find a local sponsor.
There have since been reports of these Sunnis being harassed in their makeshift camps and mosques where they are sleeping on the city's outskirts, with some even kicked out of homes they have rented. The U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian affairs said the displaced face eviction amid fears there could be IS militants hiding among them.
Sunni lawmakers have expressed outrage over such accusations, saying it is the Shiite-dominated government scapegoating Sunnis for its own security lapses.
"The people of Anbar are innocent, those who were fleeing Daesh and running for their lives have nothing to do with what is going on in Baghdad," said Sunni politician Raad al-Dahlki. .
Baghdad was once a mixed Sunni-Shiite city, but since the sectarian bloodletting in 2006-2007 it has become mostly Shiite and there is a great deal of suspicion between the two communities.
Iraq's Sunnis have chafed under the rule of the Shiite-dominated government, which they say unfairly discriminates against them, while Shiites suspect Sunnis of sympathizing with the Islamic State group, which grew out of al-Qaida's Iraq branch.
On Friday, state Iraqi Media Network teamed up with famed Iraqi musician Naseer Shamma to organize a 5 kilometer (3 mile) run along the Tigris River in Baghdad to increase awareness and raise funds for the displaced Sunnis.
About 500 people took part in the race. One of them, civil servant Sadeq Shawal, who walked the track in the 36 degrees Celsius (97 Farenheit) heat, said he was "here to have a good time" and "to help the displaced and alleviate their suffering."