Image: An Iraqi soldier inspects the site of a blast after a bomb ripped through a group of workers in Sadr City in Baghdad
Ahmad Al-Rubaye  /  AFP - Getty Images
An Iraqi soldier inspects the site of a blast after a bomb ripped through a group of workers in Baghdad's Sadr City on Tuesday. news services
updated 1/24/2012 6:01:51 AM ET 2012-01-24T11:01:51

A wave of car bombings hit the Iraq capital on Tuesday, killing 14 people and wounding more than 70 as violence surges in the country amid an escalating political crisis a month after the U.S. military withdrawal.

At least 170 people have died in attacks since the beginning of the year, many of them Shiite pilgrims attending religious commemorations. The last American soldiers left the country Dec. 18.

Video: Last US troops leave Iraq (on this page)

Suspected Sunni insurgents have frequently targeted Shiite communities and Iraqi security forces to undermine public confidence in the Shiite-dominated government and its efforts to protect people.

'Like a black storm'
Tuesday's first attack targeted an early morning gathering of day laborers in Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood. Police said eight were killed and another 21 wounded.

Minutes later, an explosives-packed car blew up near a pastry shop in the same district, killing three people and wounding 26, police said.

"We were all standing waiting to earn our living and all of a sudden it was like a black storm and I felt myself thrown on the ground," said Ahmed Ali, a 40-year-old laborer whose face and hair were burned by the explosion.

"I fainted for a while then I woke up and hurried to one of the cars to take me to the hospital," Ali told Reuters from a bed in the emergency room at Imam Ali hospital in Sadr City.

Later in the morning, two more explosives-laden cars detonated.

Students killed
A parked car bomb exploded near a high school at 10:30 a.m. in the predominantly Shiite neighborhood of Shula in northern Baghdad, killing two students and wounding 16 others, most of them also students, according to local police.

In the neighboring district of Hurriya, one person was killed when an explosives-packed car, parked along a busy commercial street detonated five minutes after the Shula blast, police officials said. Thirteen people were injured in that bombing.

Hospital officials in Baghdad confirmed the death toll. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Violence in Iraq has dropped sharply from the height of sectarian killing in 2006-07, but insurgents and militias still carry out daily attacks and assassinations in an attempt to undermine the government.

The recent attacks are seen as particularly dangerous because they coincide with both the departure of U.S. troops and a political crisis pitting Shiite officials against the largest Sunni-backed bloc.

The political battle erupted last month after the Shiite-led government issued an arrest warrant against the Sunni vice president, Tareq al-Hashemi, on terrorism charges, sending him into virtual exile in the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq.

In protest, al-Hashemi's Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc has been boycotting parliament and Cabinet sessions, bringing government work to a standstill.

Sunnis fear that without the American presence as a last-resort guarantor of a sectarian balance, the Shiite government will try to pick off their leaders one by one, as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki tries to cement his own grip on power.

Last week, the leader of the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc, Ayad Allawi, accused al-Maliki of unfairly targeting Sunni officials and deliberately triggering a political crisis that is tearing Iraq apart.

Allawi, who is a Shiite, said Iraq needs a new prime minister or new elections to prevent the country from disintegrating along sectarian lines.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Video: Last US troops leave Iraq

  1. Closed captioning of: Last US troops leave Iraq

    >>> came up over the middle east this morning, the last american troops exited iraq , literally closing the gates behind them. they left the way they came, back in early 2003 , rolling into kuwait with military precision. in the end, it was an almost nine-year long journey, over a path paved with triumph and heartache, hope and frustration. we lost 4,487 of our men and women in uniform. the number of wounded, over 32,000. the price tag, $800 billion. finally, it is over. and tonight those who served and those who bravely waited for them here at home are taking stock of it all. our chief foreign correspondent richard engel was there to witness the historic moment. he joins us now from kuwait . richard , good evening.

    >> reporter: good evening, lester . it was an organized, dignified exit from iraq and now the rest of the troops have returned here to kuwait . a convoy of mraps moved into kuwait in a single file line. it left iraq without firing a shot.

    >> it is a piece of history. it was a privilege to be part of it.

    >> reporter: the last 480 troops to leave iraq following a million americans who came before them. their journey began 12 hours earlier, 200 miles north in southern iraq . at sunset at iraq 's camp adder, they smoked cigars and checked every engine. then 110 vehicles were on their way in the darkness, holding a steady 35 miles an hour.

    >> how does it feel up there?

    >> good.

    >> reporter: until lights appeared, the kuwaiti border, and the crossing began. it is now just after sunrise here in kuwait , as the last american troops leave iraq . some of the soldiers have been waving. others taking pictures to remember this moment, the moment the iraq war ended. moments later, the gate to iraq was shut. one vehicle got special attention, the last of the last to exit iraq . this specialist from hawaii will be able to tell his friends, wife and eventually the daughter he hasn't seen since she was born that he was the last soldier to leave iraq .

    >> all we care about is everybody got home in one piece, safely, you know, nothing going on, no attacks or anything, just safe and smooth right back here.

    >> reporter: the last female soldier was specialist britney hampton, from texas.

    >> i'm just proud, honestly. i'm glad it's over. a sense of relief.

    >> reporter: military families like hers carried the burden of this war. other americans at times preferred to ignore. hampton's father served four tours in iraq . she's finishing one. her fiance did one too.

    >> we're going to have christmas at our house this year. that's all i'm looking forward to, all i can think about.

    >> reporter: now it is over, after many are struggling with injuries, trauma, divorce and anger. today, the troops left with their spirits high.

    >> it is a great day for not just for me, but for everybody. all the sacrifices the united states made and over the course of the iraq war .

    >> reporter: a controversial war, perhaps not mission accomplished , but at least now mission complete. also, lester , after all of these years of war, the iraqis have paid a heavy price, about 150,000 iraqis killed since the conflict began. and here it is, lester , the last vehicle. and you can see where the soldiers wrote in chalk, just that, last vehicle out of iraq . all that is left now is to send all of this home.

    >> richard , you have a good perspective. you were there for the beginning and were there for the end. what does the u.s. leave behind in iraq ?

    >> reporter: the fear is that iraq is becoming a sectarian shiite state. i think it is revealing that the last american base was called camp adder, named after a snake, but as soon as it was handed over to the iraqi government , it was renamed the iman ali air base , named after the founder of shiite islam .

    >> richard engel in kuwait tonight. richard , thank you.


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