A series of deadly car bombs in mostly-Shia neighborhoods of Baghdad killed nearly 60 people Tuesday, security and medical officials said. The bombings are the latest in a string of attacks launched in the evenings, hitting Iraqis as they visit cafes and other public areas.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but they bore the hallmark of al-Qaeda in Iraq and other armed groups that have been battling the Shia-controlled Iraqi government.
Over two years of civil war in neighboring Syria have aggravated deep-rooted sectarian divisions in Iraq, fraying an uneasy government coalition of Shia, Sunni and ethnic Kurdish factions.
The blasts struck around 6 p.m. local time and hit a variety of civilian targets, including markets, ice cream shops and mosques.
One of the blasts occurred in Baghdad's northern Talbiya neighborhood, where a car bomb detonated on a busy street. In the Hussainiya district on the northern outskirts of the capital, two other car bombs exploded in quick succession.
"I saw a fireball and a huge cloud of smoke. We couldn't approach immediately fearing a second bomb, but we could hear the screams of people asking for help," said Ali Jameel, a policeman in a patrol stationed in Hussainiya.
"A minute later a second blast happened nearby. Bodies were lying on the ground and some of the wounded were crawling to distance themselves from the blaze, leaving a trail of blood behind them," he added.
Earlier Tuesday, gunmen stormed the house of a Sunni, pro-government militia member in southern Baghdad and beheaded him, along with his wife and three children, police and medics said.
Separately, four unidentified bodies were found in different places in Baghdad. All of the victims had been handcuffed, blindfolded and killed.
The bloodshed, 18 months after U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq, has stirred concerns about a return to the sectarian slaughter of 2006-2007, when the monthly death toll sometimes topped 3,000.
Since April, violence in Iraq has intensified to levels not seen since 2008. More than 4,000 people have been killed over the past five months alone, including more than 800 in August, according to figures provided by U.N. officials based in Iraq.