BAGHDAD (AFP) – A spate of bloody car bombings rocked mainly Shiite districts of Iraq’s capital on Monday, killing at least 34 people in what the US military said appeared to be coordinated attacks by Al-Qaeda.
Nearly 140 people were wounded in the attacks which recalled the blackest days of post-Saddam violence in the capital.
A total of six car bombs shattered the city’s fragile security situation just as British business minister Peter Mandelson arrived in Baghdad. Among the dead were at least two women and a baby.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki blamed the attacks on Al-Qaeda and supporters of the banned Baath party of toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.
“The supporters of this bad system, in cohorts with Al-Qaeda, have sowed death in our beloved city of Baghdad,” he said. “These attacks unveil the bloodthirsty face of this party.”
During the morning rush-hour, 10 people were killed and 65 wounded when a booby-trapped car exploded in a market area of the impoverished Shiite district of Sadr City, an interior ministry official said.
In Allawi, a mixed Sunni and Shiite district in the centre, six people were killed and 25 others wounded by another car bomb. Most of the victims were workers waiting for jobs, a defence ministry official said.
Emergency teams moved in fast to clean up the pieces of twisted metal and the remains of a mangled white sedan. Storefronts were closed, many of them damaged.
A car bomb targeting the convoy of a senior interior ministry official killed one civilian and a policeman and wounded six other policemen in the Shiite neighbourhood of New Baghdad. The official was unhurt.
And in Shiite Hussainiya, four people were killed and 20 wounded when a vehicle exploded near a market.
The attacks all occurred between 7 am and 9 am, when streets are crowded.
The violence continued later in the day and shortly after noon twin car bombs tore through a popular medical clinic and a crowded bazaar, killing 12 and wounding 23 in Shiite Um Al-Maalif near the city centre, defence and interior ministry officials said.
The attacks in the mostly Shiite areas of the city came after deadly clashes in Baghdad between Iraqi troops and former Sunni insurgents now turned anti-Qaeda militants over the arrest of their leader on criminal charges.
The US military ruled out involvement of disaffected Sahwa (Awakening) members, and laid the blame on Al-Qaeda in Iraq.
“Our assessment is that the attacks that took place today were a coordinated effort by Al-Qaeda. There were no indicators that the Sons of Iraq (Sahwa) were involved in any of the attacks,” said Lieutenant Colonel Philip Smith, US army spokesman in Baghdad.
“The nature of the attacks and targets are consistent with past Al-Qaeda in Iraq attacks,” Smith told AFP.
“We see this as a coordinated attack by terrorists against a population that they gauge is vulnerable, to instigate sectarian violence.”
UN chief Ban Ki-moon joined in condemnations of the bombings, in a statement. But he remained “confident that the people of Iraq will reject these reprehensible attempts to provoke sectarian violence.”
Despite improving security, bombings remain all too common in the capital, and the latest unrest came as Mandelson led Britain’s first official trade delegation to Baghdad for more than 20 years.
Also on Monday, seven Iraqi soldiers were wounded when a man exploded a suicide vest inside the house they were raiding in Balad, 70 kilometres (45 miles) north of Baghdad.
In addition, an American soldier was killed on Monday in Diyala province northeast of Baghdad, a US military statement said.
Security in Iraq has improved dramatically since 2007, when Iraqi and US forces launched offensives against Al-Qaeda militants with the help of local US-financed and US-trained militias.
But insurgents are still able to strike with deadly results. A total of 252 Iraqis were killed in violence in March, almost the same level as the previous month but up from January, when 191 Iraqis died in the violence.