A series of bombings across Baghdad killed at least 55 people. NBC's Brian Williams reports.
Updated at 7:13 a.m. ET: BAGHDAD -- A rapid series of attacks across a wide swath of Iraq killed at least 60 people Thursday, targeting mostly security forces in what appeared to be another strike by al-Qaida militants bent on destabilizing the country.
The apparently coordinated bombings and shootings unfolded over four hours in the capital Baghdad — where most of the deaths were — and 11 other cities. They struck government offices and restaurants while one in the town of Musayyib hit close to a primary school. At least 225 people were wounded.
At least 32 people were killed in blasts in Baghdad where 10 explosions tore through mainly Shiite neighborhoods during rush hour.
It was the latest of a series of large-scale attacks that insurgents have launched every few weeks since the last U.S. troops left Iraq in mid-December at the end of a nearly 10-year war.
Shortly after the withdrawal, a major political crisis with sectarian undertones erupted when Shiite-dominated authorities sought to arrest Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi on allegations he commanded death squads targeting security forces and government officials.
While no group immediately claimed responsibility for the latest attacks, targeting security officials is a hallmark of Al-Qaida in Iraq. Al-Qaida claimed responsibility for a similar strike on Jan. 5 that killed 78 people and mostly targeted Shiite pilgrims in Baghdad, in what was the worst day of violence to shake Iraq in months.
In the single deadliest strike Thursday, a car bomb in Baghdad's downtown shopping district of Karradah killed nine people and wounded 26. The blast effects could be felt blocks away, shaking buildings and windows. Associated Press TV footage of the scene showed people walking away from the scene, covered in blood.
And in another part of capital, gunmen with silenced pistols killed a total of eight policemen at security checkpoints, officials said.
"What is happening today are not simple security violations — it is a huge security failure and disaster," said Ahmed al-Tamimi, who was working at an Education Ministry office a block away from a restaurant that was bombed in the Shiite neighborhood of Kazimiyah in northern Baghdad. He described a hellish scene of human flesh and pools of blood at the scene.
A sudden outbreak of violence has killed at least 60 people across Iraq. Msnbc.com's Dara Brown reports.
"We want to know: What were the thousands of policemen and soldiers in Baghdad doing today while the terrorists were roaming the city and spreading violence?" al-Tamimi said.
In Musayyib, a car bomb parked on the street between a restaurant and an elementary school killed one person and wounded 62. Most of the injured were school children, said police and health officials.
Attacks in Baqouba, Kirkuk and in Salahuddin provinces were also reported in the relentless string of assaults that unfolded over a four-hour period.
Officials in Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of the capital, said a suicide bomber blew up his car outside a police station near a market. Two people were killed and eight wounded.
In the ethnically mixed city of Kirkuk, 180 miles north of Baghdad, two police patrols were hit by roadside bombs. Twenty policemen were injured in the attacks, police Maj. Gen. Sarhat Qadir sid.
Bombs in the town of Tuz Khormato outside Kirkuk wounded three guards near the office of a Kurdish political party. And south of Baghdad, eight policemen were wounded by a roadside bomb in the town of Madain, said Mayor Jalal Baban. Madain is about 14 miles southeast of the capital.
Sabah Arar / AFP - Getty Images
Iraqis inspect the damage following a blast in central Baghdad on Thursday.
On Sunday, a suicide car bombing killed 19 people at a Baghdad police academy.
Tensions have been high in Iraq as it struggles with its worst political turmoil in a year in the aftermath of the U.S. troop withdrawal nearly nine years after the invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein.
Attacks against mostly Shiite targets surged after Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government moved against senior members of the Sunni-backed Iraqiya political bloc.
Widespread violence has decreased since just a few years ago when Iraq teetered on the brink of civil war. But bombings and deadly shootings still happen almost daily.
The country has been besieged by political turbulence that began the day after U.S. troops pulled out of Iraq, when an arrest warrant was issued for al-Hashemi, the country's vice president.
Decorated former Navy SEAL marksman Chris Kyle, author of a new book about the super-secret military personnel who are assigned the most-dangerous missions, talks about some of the bloodiest battles of the war in Iraq.
Al-Hashemi, Iraq's highest-ranking Sunni, has denied the charges that he described as politically motivated, and blamed the Shiite-led government of trying to unseat him.
Experts worry the case will hike Iraq's already-simmering sectarian tensions.
More from msnbc.com and NBC News:
- Preparing for the unthinkable (terror) at the London Olympics
- Russians rally for Putin — and 2 days off work
- GOP rivals back arming of Syria's rebels
- Dozens killed as at least 14 bombs rock Iraq in 2-hour span
- Taliban to Afghans: Kill foreigners over Quran burnings
- NBC's Richard Engel answers reader questions about Syria
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.