A series of bomb attacks mainly targeting Shiite worshippers killed 58 people Friday, including 25 near the main Baghdad office of an anti-US Shiite cleric, officials said.
The violence demonstrated insurgents remain a potent force days after Iraqi authorities announced the killings of the top two Al-Qaeda leaders in Iraq. Extremists are seeking to exploit political deadlock after the inconclusive March 7 parliamentary election and ignite sectarian warfare as US forces prepare to go home.
The biggest of Friday's bombings took place just a few hundred yards from the compound of cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in Baghdad's vast slum of Sadr City as worshippers gathered for Friday prayers at the compound.
Two car bombs and a roadside bomb exploded around 1:30 pm, killing 25 people and wounding an estimated 150, according to hospital and police officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
The blasts left blood streaming down muddy streets. Men carried victims away using bed sheets as makeshift stretchers and loaded them into the backs of trucks and rushed them to the hospital. One man fled carrying a young girl whose pink dress was stained with blood.
Many who gathered at the scene pelted Iraqi security officials with stones when they arrived in the area, frustrated with their apparent inability to secure the city. Iraqi security officials fired their guns in the air to disperse the crowd.
Bombings elsewhere in Iraq - most of them targeting Shiite worshippers - killed 33 other people in one of the deadliest days the country has seen in weeks. Targeting Shiite mosques is a hallmark of the Sunni-dominated terrorist group Al-Qaeda in Iraq.
The death toll was given by police and hospital officials. A spokesman for the Baghdad operations command, Major General Qassim al-Moussawi, put the number of dead in Sadr City at 10 and the total number of killings across Baghdad at 54, with 108 wounded. Conflicting casualty counts are common after bombings in Iraq. He called the attacks "a hysterical reaction by Al-Qaeda operatives in response for the gigantic blows they received by the security forces recently."
"We expect that such attacks will continue," he said.
In the other attacks, at least 14 people were killed near a Shiite mosque in eastern Baghdad, eight died in an explosion in the northern area of Hurriyah that targeted another Shiite mosque, and a roadside bomb in southeastern Baghdad killed one person.
Another two people were killed in the Rahmaniya neighbourhood of northern Baghdad and another was killed in the Dora neighbourhood. In the western Anbar province, before dawn, home made bombs planted around the houses of Iraqi policemen killed seven people, including a soldier trying to defuse one of the devices, authorities said.