Explosions have wracked mainly Shiite districts of Baghdad, killing at least 60 people. The blasts coincide with sectarian disputes within Iraq's powersharing government and follow last weekend's US troop withdrawal.
Mainly Shiite districts of the Iraqi capital were wracked by 12 explosions during Thursday's morning rush hour, including Karrada in central Baghdad. Police say a suicide bomber detonated explosives while driving an ambulance near a kindergarten and government offices.
An Iraqi health ministry spokesman put the toll at 60 killed and said 183 people had been wounded by the blasts, which occurred almost simultaneously.
Separately, the news agency AFP reported a family of five killed in the central city of Baquba and two soldiers shot dead in the northern city of Mosul.
Maliki challenges Sunnis
The attacks, the deadliest in two weeks, follow an attempt by Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to sideline two Sunni leaders. He has demanded the arrest of Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, a Sunni Arab leader, who is holed up in Iraq's northern, semi-autonomous Kurdish region. Hashemi denies charges that he organized assassinations and bombings.
Maliki had also called for the sacking of his Sunni deputy Saleh al-Mutlak, who, like Hashemi, belongs to the Iraqiya block which has been boycotting parliament and the cabinet. Hashemi had described the Maliki-led government as a "dictatorship."
The political turmoil is the worst since Iraq's fragile powersharing government was formed a year ago. Iraq's Sunni minority, to which the late dictator Saddam Hussein belonged, has faced a rise of Iraq's Shiite majority since the 2003 US-led invasion.
US withdrawal completed
The upsurge in violence comes just days after US troops completed their withdrawal, nearly nine years after their invasion to topple Saddam Hussein, and leaving behind what US President Barack Obama had described as a "sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq."
Overall, violence had declined in recent months from peaks in 2006 and 2007, but attacks have remained common. In November 187 people were killed, according to official figures.
In October, bomb attacks on a busy commercial street in north-east Baghdad killed at least 30, with scores wounded.
Author: Ian P. Johnson (AP, AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Nicole Goebel