Eight bombs exploded in rapid succession today around Baghdad, throwing the entire city into chaos after one of the most sophisticated attacks in months.
Iraqi officials say at least 49 people have died so far and American sources say the death toll could rise to 60 with more than 100 injured.
The bombs mainly targeted four- and five-story apartment buildings in Shiite Muslim neighborhoods of Western Baghdad, causing several of them to collapse. Pictures on local television showed residents frantically digging through large chunks of concrete and twisted metal to reach survivors. As one elderly woman was removed from the rubble on a stretcher, a small cheer went up from the crowd.
Col. Sattar Jabbar of Iraq's Ministry of Interior said on television said that this was a technique used in previous bombings dating back to 2007. He said the culprits likely rented the apartments "for a few days, brought in the explosives then detonated them."
U.S. military officials confirmed the bombs were a mix of car bombs and explosives planted in buildings. Iraqi security forces were able to defuse bombs in two additional buildings.
A source with Iraqi security forces who did not want to be identified said it was likely the bombs were made of old military ammunition mixed with the military plastic explosive C4. The official was at a loss as to how the attackers were able to move the explosives through a city that has seen a massive security increase since national elections occurred last month.
Iraqi security forces have beefed up their roadblocks, checkpoints and searching techniques throughout the city. Today's attacks are a reminder that insurgents can still pull off large-scale coordinated attacks.
Today's bombings follow coordinated attacks on Sunday targeting foreign embassies. More than 40 Iraqis were killed with none of the bombs reaching their intended targets. Last Friday 25 people in a Sunni village were shot and killed execution-style.
The violence comes at a sensitive time for Iraq, with the country still wrestling with an inclusive result from national elections last month. One of the candidates, Ayad Allawi, blamed the rise in violence on a power vacuum. In an interview with the Associated Press he said "extreme forces" want to take advantage of the wrangling over who will lead the country.
Lt. Col. Eric Bloom, a U.S. Army spokesman, said there appeared to be no common thread between today's attacks but they do fit a pattern that would suggest Al Qaeda in Iraq carried out the assault. So far there have been no claims of responsibility for today's bombings.
Despite today's bombings, U.S. military officials are quick to point out that violent attacks are still way down from where they were last year and the overall trend in violence is continuing to decrease.
"Every time there is one like this we worry are the U.S. forces leaving too soon are we disengaging too fast," said Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, "but then, when you actually put it in some perspective and wait a few more weeks, you see the overall violence trends, while still higher than anyone would like, are going down."
David Bender, a Middle East Analyst with the Eurasia Group, said it was unlikely that Iraq would return to its most violent days.
"Militant groups do not have the resources or organization to engage in a sustained campaign that threatens the viability of the state," he said.