A wave of near-simultaneous bombs ripped through crowded Baghdad markets and a packed minibus, killing 48 people including women and children, and making April the deadliest month of the year in Iraq.
Three blasts occurred within minutes of each other in markets in the impoverished Shiite district of Sadr City and two other neighbourhoods during afternoon rush hour when they were packed with mothers and schoolchildren.
“Forty-one people were killed and 68 wounded in three car bombs in market places,” an interior ministry official told AFP.
”The explosions started about 4:30 pm… Among the victims were women and children,” added a Sadr City policeman.
Medical sources from hospitals in the Iraqi capital confirmed the toll of dead and wounded in Sadr City.
The attacks in the northeast area of the capital were followed by deadly blasts in three other districts that raised the toll to 48 dead and more than 80 wounded.
A bomb on a minibus killed five civilians and wounded three in the mixed neighbourhood of Dora in south Baghdad.
Another car bomb in confessionally mixed Al-Shurta Al-Rabaa in the west injured five, security officials told AFP.
Two further car bombs killed two people and wounded eight near a Shiite mosque in Hurriyah, also in west Baghdad.
Sadr City Protests
The explosions in Sadr City triggered a spontaneous protest among dozens of angry residents who poured into the streets and accused the police of cooperating with the Americans and failing to do their job effectively.
“Whatever you do Moqtada al-Sadr will be number one,” they shouted, referring to the firebrand Shiite cleric whose main power base is in the eastern Baghdad slum.
As the crowd began to throw stones nervous police fired warning shots, sending locals diving for cover amid the charred wreckage of vehicles and burned out store fronts, an AFP reporter said.
The sprawling district was once one of the capital\’s most violent areas, a stronghold of Shiite death squads that was repeatedly hit with massive car bombs until a US and Iraqi military campaign brought a fragile calm last year.
Wednesday\’s carnage comes amid the worst wave of bloodletting to hit Iraq this year, including a devastating attack last week by two women who blew themselves up in a crowded market near a revered Shiite shrine in the capital, killing at least 65 people.
The surge in violence comes two months before US troops are to withdraw from all major Iraqi towns and cities as part of a general drawdown required by a security pact signed with Washington in November.
American forces are to pull out from the country as a whole by the end of 2011.
Violence has plummeted over the past two years as US and Iraqi forces have allied with former Sunni insurgents and local tribes to pacify large swathes of the country.
However April is proving to be the deadliest month so far this year, with more than 300 people killed and over 700 wounded, according to an AFP count based on reports from security officials.
Wednesday\’s attacks came a day after Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki hailed the arrest of Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, said to be the leader of the Al-Qaeda and blamed for a wave of attacks targeting Shiites and security forces.
Maliki referred to Baghdadi as “the head of evil, the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq,” and said he had ties to the followers of the secular former regime of executed dictator Saddam Hussein.
Iraqi security forces released what they said was the first known picture of Baghdadi, showing a middle-aged man with dark skin and a close-cropped beard and moustache wearing a black shirt.
However, the Pentagon raised doubts about the arrest, with spokesman Bryan Whitman declining to confirm the arrest to reporters.
And government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh warned that the Iraqi franchise of Osama bin “I imagine that revenge operations are already being organised, but clearly we have no choice but to confront these Satanic groups with all our strength,” he told the pan-Arabic satellite.
In other violence on Wednesday, two people were shot dead and another wounded when US forces opened fire on attackers near the troubled northern city of Kirkuk.