Several bombs exploded nearly simultaneously Tuesday in a mainly Shiite area in Baghdad, killing at least eight people and raising fears of a sustained insurgent campaign aimed at provoking new sectarian tensions.
The five-day death toll rose to 123 in the worst spasm of bombings the country has suffered since U.S. forces left the cities at the end of June, turning over urban security to Iraqi troops.
An explosives-laden car parked near a market entrance and two other nearby bombs detonated within minutes of each other at about 8:40 p.m. in the Amin al-Thaniyah neighborhood in eastern Baghdad, killing at least eight civilians and wounding 22, according to police and hospital officials.
The market was closed, but kebab vendors and a pharmacy were busy with customers when the explosion occurred.
Another bomb exploded about 20 minutes later some 900 yards (meters) from the initial blasts, wounding five people, a police officer said.
The officials all spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to release the information.
Attacks in the northern city of Mosul, which the U.S. military has called the last stronghold of al-Qaida, also killed at least 34 people Monday and 44 on Friday. It was the first time since the U.S. turned urban security over to the Iraqis on June 30 that insurgents have managed to stage two massive attacks in short order.
Dozens of deaths in recent days
Tuesday's explosions had a lower death toll but heightened concerns about security measures in the capital because they came after 29 people were killed in a spate of bombings, also on Friday and Monday, in Baghdad.
Persistent violence has focused criticism on Iraqi security forces who are now solely responsible for protecting the people in the cities since U.S. forces pulled back to bases on the outskirts. A security pact calls for all American troops to withdraw from the country by the end of 2011.
Saef Karar, 25, was lying on the roof of his house to escape the summer heat when the area was filled with smoke from the blast.
"I feel sorrow and bitterness that such a brutal calamity occurred in our neighborhood, spoiling the calm it has enjoyed for the past five months," he said.
Nobody claimed responsibility for the attacks, but car bombings and suicide attacks bear the hallmark of al-Qaida in Iraq.
The U.S. military has insisted that overall levels of violence remain low compared with past years but warned insurgents will step up efforts to re-ignite sectarian violence by provoking retaliatory attacks. Ethnic tensions between Arabs and Kurds also are high in northern Iraq.
"What's vital to realize is these attacks have failed to move the Iraqi people to ethno-sectarian violence," Brig. Gen. Stephen Lanza, a U.S. military spokesman, said in an e-mail. "I believe the Iraqi people, regardless of sect, see their country moving forward and refuse to have their future stolen by violent extremists."
A threat to public confidence
The bloodshed threatened to chip away at public confidence in the U.S.-backed government as it seeks to project a sense of normalcy ahead of next year's national elections, including an announcement last week that all concrete blast walls will be gone from Baghdad's main roads by mid-September.
The Iraqi government has responded to the recent attacks by tightening security at checkpoints and mosques and stepping up searches.
"Our security troops have increased the number on the streets," said Iraqi army Capt. Majid Kadhim. "Yesterday there were security violations. God willing, our forces are ready to safeguard people."
Iraq, meanwhile, accused Turkey of failing to fulfill a pledge to increase water flows down the Euphrates River to help the wartorn country relieve shortages that have threatened agriculture and other industries.
"These promises have not yet been fulfilled," the minister of water resources, Abdul-Latif Jamal Rasheed said in a statement coinciding with a visit by Turkish officials to Baghdad. "In fact, the quantity of water received is less than half of the minimum that normally arrives in our country."
Vested interest in improving ties
Baghdad and Ankara have been on edge, with drought-stricken Iraq accusing Turkey of cutting off water and Turkey accusing Iraq of failing to do enough to stop attacks by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, known as PKK.
But both countries have a vested interest in improving ties because of their shared trade, oil and security concerns.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu insisted his country had fulfilled a pledge to allow in 500 cubic meters per second and was considering an unspecified increase. He also said Turkey was willing to resume talks with Iraq and Syria on the issue and to provide technical assistance to help Iraq better manage its water.