A co-ordinated wave of bombings tore through Shia Muslim areas in and around the Iraqi capital early Wednesday, part of a wave of bloodshed that killed at least 66 people and wounded many more, officials said. The blasts, which came in quick succession, mainly targeted residents out shopping and on their way to work.
In addition to the bombings, the death toll included seven Shia family members killed when gunmen raided their home and shot them as they slept.
The attacks are the latest in a relentless wave of killing that has left thousands dead since April, marking the country's worst spate of bloodshed since 2008. Coordinated waves of car bombs have hit Baghdad repeatedly each month, sometimes as often as twice per week.
The violence raises fears that Iraq is hurtling back toward the brink of a civil war fuelled by ethnic and sectarian differences.
On Wednesday, insurgents deployed explosives-laden cars, suicide bombers and other bombs and targeted parking lots, outdoor markets and restaurants in predominantly Shiite neighbourhoods of Baghdad, according to officials. A military convoy was also hit south of the capital.
Security forces sealed off the bomb scenes as ambulances raced to pick up the wounded. The twisted wreckage of cars littered the pavement while cleaners and shop owners brushed away the debris. At one restaurant, the floor was stained with blood, and dishes were scattered on plastic tables.
The northern neighborhood of Kazimiyah, home to a prominent, gold-domed Shiite shrine, was the worst hit. Two bombs went off in a parking lot, followed by a suicide car bomber who struck onlookers who had gathered at the scene. Police said 10 people were killed and 27 wounded in that attack.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the day's attacks, but they bore the hallmarks of the Iraqi branch of al-Qaeda. The group frequently targets Shias, which it considers heretics, and employs coordinated bombings in an attempt to incite sectarian strife.
Shia family shot dead at home
The Shia family shot dead at home were found in the largely Sunni town of Latifiyah, about 30 kilometres south of Baghdad. Three children, ages eight to 12, were killed along with their parents and two uncles in that attack, according to police.
Authorities said they had previously fled the town after being threatened, and returned only three weeks ago.
Many of the day's blasts targeted morning shoppers. Among them was a parked car bomb that detonated in a commercial area in the northern Shaab neighbourhood of Baghdad, killing nine and wounding 25.
More parked car bombs went off in outdoor markets in the sprawling slum of Sadr City, where five were killed and 20 were wounded. Similar attacks hit the northeastern neighborhood of Shula, killing three and wounding nine; the southeastern Jisr Diyala in an outdoor market, killing eight and wounding 22; and the eastern New Baghdad area, killing three and wounding 12.
Blasts also hit the neighbourhoods of Bayaa, Jamila, Hurriyah and Saydiyah, claiming a total of 12 lives.
In Mahmoudiyah, about 30 kilometres south of Baghdad, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a restaurant, killing five and wounding 25.
And in Madain, about 25 kilometres southeast of Baghdad, a roadside bomb struck a passing military patrol, killing four soldiers and wounding six others.
Medical officials confirmed the casualty figures, which included more than 180 wounded. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release information.
The violence follows months of protests by Iraq's Sunni minority against the Shia-led government that began late last year. Attacks have been on the rise since a deadly security crackdown by security forces on a Sunni protest in April, while the increasingly sectarian nature of the civil war in neighboring Syria is inflaming Iraq's own long-festering differences between Sunnis and Shias.
In response, clerics and other influential Shias and Sunni leaders have called for restraint, and security forces have tried to ratchet up counterinsurgency operations.
More than 500 people have been killed so far in August, according to an Associated Press count.