Scores caught in Iraq car bombings
Militants have unleashed a wave of car bombings in Iraq, killing at least 34 people and wounding dozens more in a show of force meant to intimidate the majority Shiites as they marked a key holy day.
The attacks came nearly two weeks after Iraqis cast ballots in the country's first parliamentary election since the US military withdrawal in 2011.
No preliminary results have yet been released, deepening a sense of uncertainty in a country strained by a resurgence of violence.
It was the deadliest day in Iraq since April 28, when militant strikes on polling stations and other targets killed 46. No group immediately claimed the latest attacks, most of which hit Baghdad during rush hour, but they were most likely the work of the al Qaida offshoot known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.
The militant group, made up of Sunni Muslim extremists, has strengthened control over parts of western Iraq since late December. It seeks to undermine the Shiite Muslim-led government's efforts to maintain security across the country. Co-ordinated car bomb attacks against Shiites, whom it considers heretics, are one of its favourite tactics.
All of the blasts were caused by explosives-laden vehicles parked in public areas. They coincided with the Shiite communities' celebration of the birthday of Imam Ali, the Prophet Mohammed's cousin and son-in-law and the sect's most sacred martyr.
Two blasts hit Baghdad's poor Shiite district of Sadr City, killing six people and wounding 13, according to police.
A short while later, a car bomb exploded in a commercial street in the capital's eastern district of Jamila, killing three people and wounding 10. Police said a fourth car bomb went off near a traffic police office in eastern Baghdad, killing four people and wounding seven.
Other blasts struck commercial areas in the city centre, in the eastern districts of Ur and Maamil, and in the southern Dora district. Those attacks together killed 15 and wounded 45, according to police.
Another parked car bomb exploded in the afternoon in Balad, a largely Shiite town surrounded by Sunni areas 50 miles north of the capital. That blast killed six and wounded 17, police said.
Medical officials confirmed the casualty figures.
Iraqis went to the polls on April 30 in the first national-level election since American troops left the country. Prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is seeking a third term on a law-and-order platform, hailed the strong turnout as a rejection of terrorism.
It was a theme the British Embassy reiterated in condemning the latest bloodshed.
"Two weeks ago the Iraqi people showed their clear support for a peaceful democratic process by voting in large numbers. This was a clear rejection of the terrorists seeking to destabilise Iraq," said Britain's charge d'affaires, Mark Bryson-Richardson.
Iraq's Independent Election Commission has said that vote counting is still under way. It has not yet set a date to announce final results.
A coalition led by Mr al-Maliki is expected to win most the seats of the 328-member parliament but not a majority. He would have to approach other parties to form a coalition to form the next government.
Iraq has seen a spike in violence since April last year, with the death toll climbing to the highest levels since the worst of the country's sectarian bloodletting in 2006-08. The UN says 8,868 people were killed last year, and more than 1,400 in January and February this year.