BAGHDAD - The death toll rose yesterday to 68 from twin bombings in blows that also reverberated beyond the body count, showing that insurgents can still bring bloodshed into the heart of Baghdad and rattle the fragile confidence that is returning nightlife and commerce to parts of the battered city.
The US military blamed Al Qaeda in Iraq for the Thursday attack, one of the deadliest this year. It had all the signs of the radical Sunni group's previous assaults on Shi'ite civilians.
It also struck in an area of high symbolic importance, the Karradah neighborhood, which has bounced back as one of Baghdad's most vibrant commercial districts and also a stronghold for the country's most powerful Shi'ite political party, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council.
The attack came on a beautiful evening and the streets were packed with shoppers mingling at the start of the Iraqi weekend.
A bomb hidden under a vendor stall exploded first, and then in the chaos that followed a suicide bomber detonated an explosives belt, Mohammed al-Rubaie, the head of the Karradah municipality, told the state-run Al-Iraqiya TV.
Everything from domestic appliances to clothes to fruits and vegetables can be purchased there, and shoppers can grab a bite to eat at its kebab and falafel stands, or a drink at its fruit-juice parlors.
The Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council has a strong security presence and Karradah has several checkpoints but has been targeted repeatedly. The Associated Press counted at least a dozen attacks that killed seven or more people in the area since April, most before the full buildup of US troops. Thursday's was the deadliest.
The situation creates a quandary for Iraq's Shi'ite-led government and US forces on how to maintain security in a commercial district without smothering it
An Interior Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the AP yesterday that the ministry will add checkpoints and increase staffing at all such places.
As a long-range measure, the ministry is studying the idea of erecting blast walls around the commercial area, with checkpoints where visitors would be searched before entering the street, the official said.
A police officer in Karradah, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said that at least for now it is impossible to search every shopper when thousands of people are milling around.