BAGHDAD (AP) — A wave of car bombings tore through mostly Shiite Muslim neighborhoods of the Baghdad area starting Monday afternoon, leaving at least 66 dead in the latest outburst of an unusually intense wave of bloodshed roiling Iraq.
The blasts are the latest indication that Iraq's security is rapidly deteriorating as sectarian tensions exacerbated by months of Sunni-led anti-government protests and the war in neighboring Syria are on the rise.
Iraq has been hit by a wave of bloodshed that has killed more than 350 people in the past two weeks alone.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Monday's bloodshed, but the attacks bore the hallmarks of al-Qaida's Iraqi arm. The group, known as the Islamic State of Iraq, frequently uses car bombs and coordinated blasts in an effort to undermine Iraqis' confidence in the Shiite-led government.
The day's deadliest attack happened when two bombs exploded in the eastern Habibiya neighborhood, which is near the sprawling Shiite district of Sadr City. That attack killed 12 killed and wounded 35, according to police.
Twin blasts also struck an open-air market in the predominantly Shiite al-Maalif area, killing six and wounding 12 others, two police officers said.
Another car bomb exploded in the busy commercial Sadoun Street in central Baghdad. It killed five civilians and wounded 14 others, two other police officers said. Among the wounded were four policemen who were in a nearby checkpoint.
The street is one of the major hubs in the capital for clinics, pharmacies and shops. Firefighters were seen struggling to extinguish the flames from the debris of the car bomb as police sealed off the area.
Several shops were partially damaged or burned. Elsewhere, police said a car bomb went off in the capital's eastern New Baghdad area as they were waiting for explosives experts to dismantle it, killing a civilian and wounding nine others.
In the northern Sabi al-Boor neighborhood, police said eight civilians were killed and 26 wounded when another car bomb exploded in a market.
Meanwhile in the southwestern neighborhood of Bayaa, another car bomb explosion in a market killed six civilians and wounded 16. In northern Baghdad's Kazimiyah district, a car bomb blew up near a bus and taxi stop, killing four and wounding 11 others. And in Baghdad's central Sadria area, a car bomb went off in a market and killed three civilians and wounded 11.
In the eastern Jisr Diyala area, a car bomb killed 5 and wounded 12. And in the northern Shaab area, a car bomb killed four and wounded nine.
Car bombs also struck the eastern Baladiyat neighborhood, killing four and wounding 11, and the northern neighborhood of Hurriyah, leaving five dead and 14 wounded.
In Madain, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of central Baghdad, a car bomb killed three and wounded nine.
Medical officials confirmed the causality figures. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release information.
Although violence has decreased sharply in Iraq since the height of insurgency, militants are still capable to carry out lethal attacks nationwide.
The recent wave of bloodshed has raised tensions between the country's Sunni minority and Shiite-led government. The surge in violence has been reminiscent of the sectarian carnage that pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war in 2006 and 2007.
Alarmed by a nationwide deterioration in the security situation, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has ordered a reshuffle in senior military ranks.
Since Saturday, the government has launched a military operation in the country's western Anbar province to chase down fighters from al-Qaida in Iraq. The group has grown stronger thanks to the rising lawlessness on the Syrian-Iraq frontier and to cross-border cooperation with the Syrian militant group Jabhat al-Nusra, or the Nusra Front.
Associated Press writer Adam Schreck contributed.