Hundreds of angry Iraqis gathered on Thursday around the wreckage of a market bombing in Baghdad where 78 people died, demanding better protection from the government after U.S. troops pull back to bases.
A string of blasts has cast doubt on Iraqi forces' ability to keep the lid on a stubborn insurgency. U.S. and Iraqi officials have warned that more bombs and attacks are to be expected in the days before and after U.S. troops complete a withdrawal from cities and major urban centers on June 30.
More than 160 people have died in bombings over the past five days.
The violence continued Thursday as a bombing at a bus station in a Shiite neighborhood in southwest Baghdad killed at least seven people and wounded 31 others, police said. Another three bombs and a mortar killed two more people around the capital. The U.S. military said nine American soldiers were wounded in two roadside bomb attacks against a convoy in eastern Baghdad.
And in the once-turbulent but recently secure western city of Fallujah, officials said a roadside bomb destroyed a police vehicle and killed all five policemen inside.
Violence has dropped sharply across Iraq in the past year, but militants including Sunni Islamist al-Qaida continue to launch car and suicide bombings aimed at undermining the Shiite Muslim-led government and reigniting sectarian conflict.
'I expect more explosions'
Residents at the site of Wednesday's bombing in Baghdad's Sadr City slum sobbed and hugged each other, and many furiously cursed the authorities. The blast came four days after U.S. soldiers handed control of the area to Iraqi forces.
Wednesday's attack also wounded 143 people. It was the deadliest in more than two years in the area, which is heavily controlled and where people entering the district have to pass through numerous checkpoints manned by Iraqi army and police.
"I expect more explosions," Mustafa Hussain, a 33-year-old grocer, told Reuters at the scene, where pieces of flesh, shreds of bloodied clothing and shoes still littered the area.
"Iraqi forces don't have enough experience and they don't check vehicles well at their checkpoints ... they must prove their abilities to the people."
Jawad Kadhim, a 40-year-old Sadr City taxi driver, said the attack was aimed at stoking sectarian hatred.
"The terrorist groups want to send a message that when the U.S. troops leave the cities there will be a security vacuum," he said. "Relaxed security and corruption at checkpoints is the main reason we fear what may come next."
According to Iraqi Army Maj. Gen. Qassim Atta, Wednesday's bomb was built using about 441 pounds of high explosives packed with steel bearings and other metal objects. It was apparently loaded on a motorcycle pulling a cart.
"Most of victims of the explosion that occurred in Sadr City had small steel balls and nails in their bodies," said Dr. Mahmoud Mizaal at Sadr City hospital.
Most of the attacks so far have targeted Shiites or communities with predominantly Shiite populations. The killing spree began on June 20 with a massive truck bomb that killed 82 people in a mainly Shiite town near the northern city of Kirkuk, which was the deadliest bombing so far this year.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a member of Iraq's Shiite majority, urged the world to denounce the bloodshed.
"We call on the international community, especially Arabic and Islamic states, to take a clear and decisive stance against these hateful crimes," he said in a statement.
"Keeping silent is no longer an acceptable stance."
Thursday's deadly bombing in Baghdad occurred when a parked car bomb exploded inside the Baiyaa district's bus station, police officials told The Associated Press. They could not be named because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
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