BAGHDAD — A pair of car bombs tore through two different Baghdad neighborhoods Sunday, killing at least 31 people and breaking what has been a period of relative calm since the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The blasts were the worst to strike the Iraqi capital since the number of American troops in the country dropped below 50,000 and the U.S. declared a formal end to combat operations. The violence underlines the challenges Iraqi security officials face trying to stabilize Baghdad as U.S. forces drawdown and Iraq's police and military assume responsibility for protecting the capital.
Sunday's deadliest attack took place in north Baghdad's Kazimiyah neighborhood when a car bomb detonated near Adan square, killing at least 21 people and wounding more than 70, police and hospital officials said.
Minutes earlier, at least 10 people were killed in another car bombing in western Baghdad's affluent Mansour neighborhood, said Army Brig. Gen. Ali Fadhal, who is responsible for the western half of the city. Another 10 people were wounded in the attack.
Fadhal said security officials were investigating whether the blast was the work of a suicide attacker in a car targeting a crowded commercial area near an AsiaCell store, one of Iraq's biggest mobile phone providers.
The blast sheered off large sections of the concrete walls from the surrounding buildings, and chunks of rubble were strewn around the street. Dozens of Iraqi army and police officers cordoned off the area, keeping journalists at bay.
An eyewitness working in an office near the blast site said he heard a huge explosion that shattered windows in his office and brought a section of the ceiling down on one customer.
“Dust and black smoke covered the area and I thought that the car bomb exploded near our office,” said the man, who identified himself as Abu Haidar. He said he saw a lot of wounded people on the street and helped evacuate a child who had shrapnel wounds in his back.
He also pointed a finger at the government, saying it has failed to quell violence in the country.
“I blame this tragedy only on the government officials who are competing for positions and letting us be victims of these bombings,” Abu Haidar said.
Iraq has gone more than six months now without a new government since inconclusive parliamentary elections.
While politicians continue to wrangle over who should head the next government, many Iraqis complain that the political deadlock has created a power vacuum that militants have successfully exploited to strike almost at will.
Security officials could be seen roaming the blast site in Mansour as ambulances and other vehicles blocked the road leading to the checkpoint near a branch office of the Ministry of National Security that police say was targeted.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Sunday's attacks.
The violence comes nearly three weeks after the number of American soldiers fell below 50,000 and President Barack Obama declared an official end to U.S. combat operations in Iraq.
The remaining U.S. troops primarily train and assist Iraqi security forces in hunting down suspected militants, although they have continued to engage insurgents since the official end of combat.
Last week, 12 people were killed when insurgents attacked a military command center in central Baghdad and drew U.S. forces into a firefight.
Insurgents have intensified their strikes since the announcement, dispatching suicide bombers and detonating car bombs around the capital, targeting Iraqi security forces and government institutions despite a network of police and army checkpoints around Baghdad.
Earlier Sunday, two people in a minibus were killed when a roadside bomb went off in the Shula neighborhood of northwestern Baghdad, police and hospital officials said.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record.