by Ammar Karim Thu Mar 29, 3:17 PM ET
Bomb attacks killed more than 100 Iraqis on Thursday, including 60 slaughtered in a popular Baghdad market in the deadliest violence in the capital since a massive US security crackdown.
Two suicide bombers wearing explosive vests walked into Al-Shaab market in a Shiite district of northeastern Baghdad and blew themselves up as shoppers busied themselves buying provisions ahead of the weekend.
They left gruesome scenes of carnage and wounded another 25 people in the market -- a favourite target of Sunni extremists bent on causing maximum casualties -- in experiences that have become daily fare in war-racked Iraq.
The attacks were carried out shortly after 43 Iraqis were slaughtered and more than 80 wounded in coordinated bombings hitting another market in the Shiite town of Khalis, north of Baghdad.
The bodies of victims from the Baghdad market bombings were brought to the Imam Ali hospital in Sadr City, a Shiite bastion close to the site of the blasts, an AFP photographer said.
Bodies of men, women and nearly 10 children were lying on the floor of the hospital, he said as medics rushed to cover the corpses and dozens of grieving relatives frantically besieged the hospital searching for their loved ones.
Thursday's death toll pushed to more than 300 the number of Iraqis slain in the worst 48-hour bout of violence in months, fanning fears of all out civil war and savage sectarianism in the country.
Khalis lies in the troubled Diyala province that has become the most dangerous stretch of country outside the capital. Four coordinated car bombings and mortar attacks there struck a market, courthouse and a new army base.
As in Baghdad, the explosions unleashed mayhem, killing and maiming men, women and children during the busy shopping hours ahead of the main Muslim day of rest on Friday, said Ahmed al-Khadran, brother of the town's mayor.
The first car bomb targeted the market, the second blew up near a court house, a third at a new army base under construction and a fourth blew up in an ambulance, a security source said.
At least nine mortar attacks were also reported in residential areas while two roadside bombs exploded in a main street near the market, ripping through security and rescue workers who had rushed to the scene of the initial attack.
The killings came on top of the reported deaths of another 21 people in attacks concentrated around the capital on Thursday and police found 25 corpses of men killed in apparent sectarian attacks in Baghdad.
Just hours before the latest attacks, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, whose government has appointed investigators to probe the deaths of 160 Iraqis in the northern town of Tal Afar -- issued an emotional appeal for unity
"The Iraqi army is for the whole of Iraq and not a particular party or sect, and is not guided by people close to political affiliations," said Maliki in an address to cadets of a counter-terrorism academy in Baghdad.
"The country is facing many challenges which need a consolidated front in which all Iraqis must participate... Iraqis must not feel that we (as a government) are terrorising them," Maliki added.
Despite Thursday's attack in Baghdad, insurgents have increasingly focused their energies elsewhere to escape the heavily ramped up security presence in the capital where 80,000 Iraqi-US troops have deployed since last month.
But the most brutal sectarian shootings were witnessed in the northern Iraqi town of Tal Afar on Tuesday when armed men went on a rampage killing Sunni Arabs after a bomb attack killed 85 people in a crowded Shiite district.
Gunmen, at least some wearing police uniform according to witnesses, rampaged through the Sunni district of Al-Wahada killing 70 people after the presumed Sunni suicide truck bomber blew himself up among crowds waiting for food.
Iraq's embattled government admitted on Thursday that police were behind the vengeful slaughter of the Sunni Arabs as soldiers uncovered further bodies of five executed men whom a doctor said were killed in a separate incident.
"We will take legal action against a group of them," Interior Minister Jawad Bolani, himself a Shiite in the Shiite-dominated government, confirmed.
"An order has been issued by the prime minister to investigate the violations caused by elements of the police in Tal Afar," he added.
An Iraqi army source speaking on condition of anonymity said 13 policemen were detained for the mass killings of Sunni Arabs, but a spokesman later said they had been released temporarily to mourn relatives killed in the truck bomb.