BAGHDAD -- Two car bombs exploded within seconds of each other this morning on a main square in central Baghdad, killing at least 54 people and wounding more than 106, police said.
The coordinated attack in Tayaran Square happened at 7 a.m. and involved a bomb in a parked car and a car carrying a suicide bomber, Lieutenant Bilal Ali said.
He said at least 54 Iraqis, including seven policemen, were killed and 106 people wounded.
The bombs targeted a police patrol and a crowd of Iraqis gathering to apply for jobs as day laborers. The blasts were about 30 yards apart and were followed by gunfire. It was not immediately clear who was shooting -- police or insurgents continuing the attack.
Khalil Ibrahim, 41, a shopowner in the area, suffered shrapnel wounds to his head and back. "In the first explosion, I saw people falling over, some of them blown apart. When the other bomb went off seconds later, it slammed me into a wall of my store and I fainted," he said from a local hospital.
The square is located near several government ministries and a bridge that crosses the Tigris River to the heavily fortified Green Zone, site of Iraq's Parliament and the US and British embassies.
Within two hours of the attack, two other large explosions could be heard in the area, but the cause of these blasts was not immediately known.
The attacks followed a bloody day. At least 66 more people were killed or found dead in the Baghdad area and northern Iraq yesterday. They included 46 men who were bound, blindfolded, and fatally shot in Baghdad -- the latest apparent victims of sectarian death squads.
Also yesterday, the US military said three American soldiers were killed in a roadside bombing north of the capital on Sunday, putting December on track to be one of the deadliest months of the war.
The soldiers were on a late-night patrol north of Baghdad, the military said. Two soldiers were wounded. The attack raised to 46 the number of American troops who have died this month, an average of 4.6 a day. By comparison, an average of 3.4 were killed each day in October, the fourth-deadliest month of the Iraq war with 105 deaths.
In a desert area of Anbar Province, a Marine helicopter made a hard landing yesterday, injuring 18 people. It was the third US aircraft to go down in the insurgent stronghold in two weeks.
The CH-53E Super Stallion, the US military's largest helicopter, was conducting a routine passenger and cargo flight with 21 people on board when it went down about noon, the US command said, adding that hostile fire did not appear to be the cause.
Nine of the 18 injured were treated and returned to duty, the command said. The military did not specify where the landing occurred, saying recovery efforts were underway.
On Dec. 3, a Sea Knight helicopter carrying 16 US troops went down in a lake, killing four.
Last week, the bipartisan Iraq Study Group concluded that the United States could be out of Iraq by early 2008 if it dramatically increased the number of troops advising Iraqi units and threatened to cut off aid to the Iraqi government unless it met certain milestones. Bush administration officials are meeting this week to consider those and other options.
Several Iraqi political parties are trying to form a coalition aimed at breaking the influence of radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in the government, The New York Times reported in today's editions, citing senior Iraqi officials. The talks include the two main Kurdish groups, the most influential Sunni Arab party, and an Iranian-backed Shi'ite party.
Lawmakers close to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Maliki has not taken part in the negotiations, possibly out of fear that the groups might be seeking to oust him, the Times said.
Yesterday, the Maliki government struck back at criticism that it has failed to protect Iraqis from the rampant sectarian violence in the country.
Mohammed al-Askari, a Defense Ministry spokesman, defended efforts to prevent violence between Shi'ites and Sunnis in Baghdad, saying government security forces are doing all they can to keep people from being killed or driven from their homes in neighborhoods with mixed populations.