A coordinated wave of seven car bombs tore through bustling commercial streets Saturday night in Shiite areas of Baghdad, part of a relentless wave of violence that killed at least 46 inside and outside the capital.
The car bombs detonated after the iftar meal that breaks the daily fast of the holy month of Ramadan. Many people head out to shop or relax in coffee shops in the cooler evenings after fasting ends.
Bombings and other attacks have now killed more than 250 people since the start of Ramadan on July 10, according to an Associated Press count. The violence is a continuation of a surge of bloodshed that has rocked Iraq for months, reviving fears of a return to the widespread sectarian killings that pushed the country to the brink of civil war after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
Although there was no immediate claim of responsibility, coordinated bombings against Shiites are a favorite tactic of al-Qaida's Iraq branch.
Saturday's blasts began with an explosion in a busy shopping street that shook buildings in the central Baghdad neighborhood of Karrada. Police say that attack killed nine and wounded 17, and left several shops and food stalls damaged.
"The evening is the busiest time of day when a lot of people pour into Karrada after iftar to shop or eat in restaurants," said clothes vendor Karim Sami, who was working just down the road from the site of the blast.
"We don't know who to blame for these security breaches, but we are sure of one thing: Our people are bleeding every day," he said.
Similar car bombs struck the northwestern Tobchi district, killing eight and wounding 29, and Baiyaa in western Baghdad, killing three and wounding 13, authorities said.
Another blast struck Zafaraniyah in southeastern Baghdad, killing six and wounding 15, officials said.
Two separate car bombs exploded in the New Baghdad neighborhood in the southeast, killing five people and wounding 17, authorities said.
Yet another car bomb exploded in a Shiite part of the religiously mixed western neighborhood of Shurta, killing four and wounding 12, authorities said.
A senior Iraqi intelligence official, who is not allowed to speak publically to journalists, said the coordinated nature of the car bombings strongly indicates al-Qaida is responsible.
Hours before the Baghdad blasts, gunmen in pickup trucks shot and killed the local leader of a local Sunni militia opposed to al-Qaida and two of his bodyguards near the city of Baqouba, 60 kilometers (35 miles) northeast of the Iraqi capital, according to police. Baqouba is the provincial capital of Diyala, which was once the site of some of the fiercest fighting between U.S. forces and insurgents in Iraq.
The official, Bassem Mahmoud, headed a Sunni group known as Sahwa, which joined the fight against al-Qaida during the height of Iraq war. He was killed a day after a deadly bombing at a Sunni mosque in Diyala killed 22 people and wounded dozens.
Like the capital Baghdad, Diyala is religiously mixed and witnessed some of the worst atrocities as Shiite militias battled Sunni insurgents for control in the years after the invasion.
Another Sahwa member was killed along with four others when a bomb went off late Saturday near his house in Madain, about 20 kilometers (14 miles) southeast of Baghdad, officials said. Four people were wounded in that attack.
In the restive northern city of Mosul, authorities said a suicide bomber blew himself up near a military post, killing one woman and wounding 25 people, many of them soldiers.
Gunmen near the city also kidnapped three off-duty policemen and their driver, killing two of the men and seriously wounding the other two, authorities said. Mosul is 360 kilometers (225 miles) northwest of Baghdad.
Police provided details of all of the attacks, while hospital officials confirmed the death tolls. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to media.