Wave of bombings in Baghdad
A fresh wave of bombings swept the Baghdad area today as Iraq braced itself for more violence ahead of the planned withdrawal of US troops from major cities next week.
The escalating violence will test the Shiite-dominated government's ability to provide security around the country.
From June 30, most of the 133,000 American troops left there will be housed in large bases outside the capital and other cities - unable to react unless called on for help.
As the violence intensified, the reclusive Muqtada al-Sadr called on the Shiite-led government to take whatever steps necessary to protect Iraqis for attacks. But in a statement, the anti-American cleric blamed the violence on the continued presence of US troops in the country and demanded a faster withdrawal.
Last August he ordered militia loyal to his Mahdi Army to lay down their arms and take up social work. The edict came just after US troops working with Iraqi soldiers routed the militia in its stronghold in Baghdad's Sadr City.
In that Shiite bastion, a roadside bomb exploded next to a bus carrying schoolchildren to their final exams today, killing at least three people and wounding 13.
In the deadliest bombing, police said at least five people were killed and 20 were wounded by a car bomb in the Karradah district of the Iraqi capital, on the east side of the Tigris River. It took place on a road leading to a checkpoint that controls access to a bridge into the Green Zone, which houses the Iraqi government and US Embassy.
Another roadside bomb targeted a police patrol in a commercial area of eastern Baghdad's Ur district, killing three and wounding 25.
In the fourth attack, a man wearing an explosive vest blew himself up at a checkpoint leading to the mayor's offices in Abu Ghraib, a predominantly Sunni district west of Baghdad. The suicide bombing killed two people and wounded another five.
In northern Iraq, rescue crews were searching for at least 12 people still missing after a massive explosion on Saturday near the tense city of Kirkuk that flattened a Shiite mosque and dozens of mud-brick houses around it.