Twin car bombs in south Iraq killed 33 people on Tuesday while Al-Qaeda fighters hoisted their flag having shot dead five police in Baghdad, a day after the US vowed no delays to a major troop pullout.
The attack in Kut, 160 kilometres (100 miles) south of the Iraqi capital, the first car bombing in the city since the US invasion in 2003, occurred amid concerns that the conflict-wracked nation’s security may be unravelling.
Overall, 42 people were killed in violence on Tuesday, officials said, just days after government ministries said more people died in unrest in July than in any month since May 2008.
The sudden spike in violence comes amid deadlock over the formation of a new government almost five months after parliamentary elections in which no clear winner emerged.
“Two cars, parked 10 metres (yards) from each other, exploded at the same time at Al-Amel crossing,” police Lieutenant Ismail Hussein told AFP, referring to the commercial centre of Kut, which is the capital of Wasit province.
An AFP correspondent at the scene said the streets were covered in blood while several shops were badly damaged and multiple cars destroyed.
“I saw with my own eyes, women and children lying dead and wounded on the ground,” said Nasir Salman, 47, whose nearby tyre shop was badly damaged.
“The two cars exploded one after the other in the middle of a crowd,” around 6:00 pm (1500 GMT), he added.
Haidar Habib, a 40-year-old currency trader, said he was “thrown to the floor of my shop from the force of the explosions. I saw women and children on the streets losing their blood.”
Mohamed al-Mayakhi, an official for Kut health department, said 33 people, including three women and two children, were killed and 85 others wounded.
The car bombings came hours after nine security force members were killed in Baghdad.
Early Tuesday morning, Al-Qaeda fighters with silenced pistols shot dead five policemen at a checkpoint in Mansur neighbourhood before planting the flag of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), an interior ministry official said.
The ISI is the front name of Al-Qaeda in Iraq.
The official also said a traffic policeman was killed by a homemade bomb while a statement from Baghdad security forces said a soldier was killed by a second bomb and two other troops died when they tried to disarm a third device.
Tuesday’s shootings and bomb deaths follow a brazen series of attacks in the Iraqi capital on Thursday that killed 16 people, after which insurgents also hoisted the Al-Qaeda front group’s black flag.
The latest violence came a day after President Barack Obama pledged that the United States would end its combat mission in Iraq at the end of this month, leaving 50,000 troops in the country from the current figure of around 65,000.
On Saturday, Iraqi figures compiled by the ministries of health, interior and defence showed 535 people were killed by violence in July, the highest monthly figure in more than two years.
The US military, however, has disputed those figures, saying they were “grossly overstated.”
US and Iraqi officials have warned of the dangers of an upsurge in violence if negotiations on forming a new government drag on, giving insurgent groups an opportunity to further destabilise the country.
The March 7 general election gave no single bloc an overall parliamentary majority and the two lists which won the most seats are still bickering over who should be the next prime minister.