A wave of bombings ripped across Baghdad on Thursday morning, killing at least 69 people and injuring almost 200 in the worst violence Iraq has seen for months. The apparently coordinated attacks left a bloodbath just days after American forces left the country.
The blasts also came on the heels of a political crisis between Iraq's Sunni and Shiite factions that erupted this weekend.
The political spat has raised fears that Iraq's sectarian wounds will be reopened during a fragile time when Iraq is finally navigating its own political future without U.S. military support.
The string of explosions will ratchet up tensions at a time when many Iraqis are already worried about security. If continued, it could lead to the same type of tit-for-tat attacks that characterized the insurgency years ago.
At least 14 blasts went off in the morning and there were two more in the evening.
The White House on Thursday said in response to the attacks, "At this difficult time, the United States stands with Iraq as a strategic partner and a close friend. Attempts such as this to derail Iraq's continued progress will fail."
"We continue to urge leaders to come together to face common challenges," the White House said.
The deadliest attack was in the Karrada neighborhood, where a suicide bomber driving an explosives-laden vehicle blew himself up outside the office of a government agency fighting corruption. Two police officers at the scene said the bomber was driving an ambulance and told guards that he needed to get to a nearby hospital. After the guards let him through, he drove to the building where he blew himself up, the officers said.
Sirens wailed as ambulances rushed to the scene and a large plume of smoke rose over the area. The blast left a crater about five yards wide in front of the five-story building, which was singed and blackened.
"I was sleeping in my bed when the explosion happened, said 12-year-old Hussain Abbas, who was standing nearby in his pajamas. "I jumped from my bed and rushed to my mom's lap. I told her I did not to go to school today. I'm terrified."
At least 25 people were killed and 62 injured in that attack, officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
"We heard the sound of a car driving, then car brakes, then a huge explosion, all our windows and doors are blown out, black smoke filled our apartment," said Maysoun Kamal, who lives in a Karrada compound.
Raghad Khalid, a teacher at a kindergarten near the Karrada blast, said "some parts of the car bomb are inside our building."
"I saw all the windows were blown out and glass scattered everywhere. The children were scared and crying," Khalid added.
Figures gathered from Iraqi health and police officials across the city put the death toll at 69, and 169 injured, including the two evening blasts in western Baghdad neighborhoods that killed nine people and injured 21.
"The timing of these crimes and the places where they were carried out confirm... the political nature of the targets," Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said in a statement.
Citing officials, The Associated Press said at least 65 people had been killed. Reuters, quoting security officials, said a total of 194 people were wounded.
The explosions ranged from blasts from sticky bombs attached to cars to roadside bombs and vehicles packed with explosives. There was at least one suicide bombing among the attacks.
Two roadside bombs struck the southwestern Amil district, killing at least seven people and wounding 21 others, while a car bomb blew up in a Shiite neighborhood in Doura in the south, killing three people and wounding six, police said.
"My baby was sleeping in her bed. Shards of glass have fallen on our heads. Her father hugged her and carried her. She is now scared in the next room," said one woman in western Baghdad who identified herself as Um Hanin. "All countries are stable. Why don't we have security and stability?"
More bombs ripped into the central Alawi area, Shaab and Shula in the north, all mainly Shiite areas, and a roadside bomb killed one and wounded five near the Sunni neighborhood of Adhamiya, police said.
Violence in Iraq has ebbed since the height of sectarian violence in 2006-2007, when suicide bombers and hit squads targeted Sunni and Shiite communities in attacks that killed thousands of people.
Iraq is still fighting a stubborn, lower-grade insurgency with Sunni Islamists tied to al-Qaida and Shiite militias, who U.S. officials say are backed by Iran, still staging daily attacks.
The last few thousand American troops pulled out of Iraq over the weekend, nearly nine years after the invasion that toppled Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein. Many Iraqis had said they feared a return to sectarian violence without a U.S. military buffer.
Just days after the withdrawal, Iraq's fragile power-sharing government is grappling with its worst turmoil since its formation a year ago. Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish blocs share out government posts in a unwieldy system that has been impaired by political infighting since it began.
The government of al-Maliki, who is a Shiite, has accused the Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi of running a hit squad that targeted government officials.
Al-Maliki is also pushing for a vote of no-confidence against another Sunni politician, the deputy prime minister Saleh al-Mutlaq. Al-Maliki was likened to Saddam by al-Mutlaq.
Many Sunnis fear that this is part of a wider campaign to go after Sunni political figures in general and shore up Shiite control across the country.
No group claimed responsibility for Thursday's bombings, but analysts said Iraq's al-Qaida affiliate was probably hitting Shiite targets, as in the past, to inflame sectarian conflict and show it was still capable of major attacks. The Sunni extremist group often targets Shiites who they believe are not true Muslims.
"The perpetrators have sought to underline the fragile, sectarian balance of Iraq's political system," said Matthew Henman, analyst at Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Center.
U.S. military officials have said they're worried about a resurgence of al-Qaida after the American military leaves the country. If that happens, it could lead Shiite militants to fight back and attack Sunni targets, thus sending Iraq back to the sectarian violence it experienced just a few years ago.
Iraq's Sunni minority have felt marginalized since the rise of the Shiite majority in Iraq after the 2003 invasion.
Many Sunnis feel they have been shunted aside in the power-sharing agreement that Washington touts as a young democracy.