Bomb blasts ripped through two popular pet markets in Baghdad on Friday, killing 72 people in the deadliest attacks in the city in six months and dealing a bitter blow to Iraqi hopes that security is getting better.
Police said a female suicide bomber killed 45 people and wounded 82 at the Ghazil pet market in central Baghdad.
Another blast shortly after, caused either by a roadside bomb or a second female suicide bomber, killed 27 people and wounded 67 at a bird market in southern Baghdad, they said.
While attacks have continued to fall across Iraq in recent months, the latest blasts underscore US military warnings that a return to the violence that took Iraq to the brink of sectarian civil war is still possible.
At the Ghazil market, one of Baghdad's most popular gathering places and which has been bombed at least three times in the past year, people stared at the destruction as workers swept up body parts and blood-stained animal boxes.
"I came here to enjoy myself. I don't know how I survived," said witness Abu Haider, who was covered in blood as he stood among ruined stalls and carcasses of birds and other animals.
"I was right there at the scene when the blast happened. It knocked me over. When I managed to get up, I saw dozens had been killed and wounded," he said.
One witness said the female bomber entered the market saying she had birds to sell. Scores of people gathered and then the bomb underneath her clothing went off, the witness said.
Police said the second attack was caused by a roadside bomb.
But Major-General Qassim Moussawi, spokesman for the Iraqi military in Baghdad, said in both attacks women had been loaded with explosives which were then detonated remotely.
"We found the mobiles used to detonate the women," he said.
Ambulances tried to push through packed streets to get to Ghazil after the blast, which occurred in almost exactly the same spot as a bombing which killed 13 people on Nov. 23.
Police and civil defence officials piled the wounded into wheelbarrows, cars and the back of pick-up trucks while US soldiers helped secure the area, witnesses said. Officials at nearby hospitals said they struggled to cope with the wounded.
"Most people who visit this market are poor and just want to enjoy themselves but they came and got killed," said Hassan Salman, who sells bird seed at the Ghazil market.
The Ghazil market only opens on Fridays and is a popular spectacle visited by hundreds of Baghdadis. It sells a colourful range of creatures from guard dogs and monkeys to parrots, pigeons and tropical fish. Reuters