Car bombs and a suicide attacker struck crowded areas in Baghdad and former insurgent strongholds to the north and west of the capital Tuesday, killing dozens and breaking a recent lull in violence in the predominantly Sunni areas.
The attacks were a deadly reminder of the threat posed by suspected Sunni insurgents even as clashes between Shiite militia fighters and U.S.-Iraqi forces continued elsewhere.
The U.S. military condemned the bombings and said they appeared to have been carried out by al-Qaida in Iraq.
The first blast occurred in Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, when a car parked in front of a restaurant exploded just before noon across the street from the central courthouse and other government offices.
One survivor described a huge fire that sent black smoke billowing into the sky and left charred bodies inside their cars.
“I was on my way to the government office when a big explosion occurred nearby,” said the witness, who would only identify himself by his nickname Abu Ali. “As I approached the site, I saw cars on fire, burned bodies and damaged shops damaged with shattered glass everywhere.”
At least 40 people were killed and 70 wounded in the blast, according to hospital officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to release the information.
AP Television News footage showed many of the bodies covered in crisp white sheets in the main hospital’s courtyard while the emergency room inside was overwhelmed with the wounded.
The U.S. military in northern Iraq gave a slightly lower toll, saying 35 Iraqi citizens were killed, including a policeman, and 66 wounded in the attack.
Deadliest bomb since March 6
It was the deadliest bombing in Iraq since March 6 when a twin bombing killed 68 people in a crowded shopping district in the central Baghdad district of Karradah.
A suicide attacker on a motorcycle later drove up to a kebab restaurant in Ramadi and detonated his explosives vest around 12:30 p.m., killing at least 13 people, including three policemen, and wounding 20 other people, police Capt. Abu Saif al-Anbari said. Hospital officials said two children were among the dead.
Police initially thought a parked car had exploded in the industrial area but later determined it was a suicide attack, al-Anbari said.
Ahmed al-Dulaimi, a 27-year-old mechanic, was at the restaurant when the blast occurred but escaped injury because he was sitting at a back table. He said his cousin, who owned the restaurant, had been killed.
“Pieces of flesh flew into the air and the roof fell over us. I saw the horrible sight of bodies without heads or without legs or hands,” he said.
Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, is the capital of Anbar province and has largely been sealed off by checkpoints.
Like Baqouba, the area has seen a sharp decline in violence in recent months as Sunni tribal leaders have joined forces with the Americans against al-Qaida in Iraq.
U.S.: 'Not indicative'
The U.S. military said overall attacks in Diyala province have dropped more than 76 percent since June 2007.
“Although attacks such as today’s event are tragic, it is not indicative of the overall security situation in Baqouba,” Maj. Mike Garcia, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Diyala, said in a statement.
A parked car bomb also targeted a police patrol in central Baghdad, killing four civilians who were passing by and wounding 15 other people, police said.
Elsewhere in northern Iraq, a double car bombing in Mosul wounded three Iraqi policemen and 15 civilians, the U.S. military said. Mosul is considered one of the last urban strongholds for al-Qaida in Iraq and the American and Iraqi militaries have promised a security crackdown.
The relative calm in predominantly Sunni areas has coincided with clashes between Shiite militia fighters and U.S.-Iraqi forces in Baghdad and the oil-rich southern city of Basra.
But while the Bush administration has begun citing what it calls Iranian-backed Shiite factions as the greatest threat to Iraq’s stability, American commanders have consistently warned that al-Qaida-led insurgents continue to pose a serious danger.
In other violence Tuesday, U.S. soldiers backed by an airstrike killed six militants during clashes in the Sudayrah area near Baghdad’s main Shiite militia stronghold of Sadr City, the military said.
Iraqi police in the area claimed that two boys were among those killed in the airstrike, but the military said no civilian casualties were reported.
Lt. Col. Steve Stover said separately that American troops killed four militants who fired rocket-propelled grenades at a tank elsewhere in the area.
Clashes also broke out later Tuesday in Sadr City, leaving four militiamen killed and 15 others wounded, Iraqi police and hospital officials said.