At least 42 killed as bombs rip through Shiite areas of Baghdad

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Bombs gutted a market and destroyed at least four buildings in working-class Shiite Muslim areas of Baghdad on Tuesday, killing dozens as violence following last month’s election continued to escalate and raise fears among Iraqis that a new civil war could erupt.

In some of the cases, unknown men had rented rooms in buildings around the city, wired them with explosives and detonated their devices on Tuesday morning.

Security sources said that the first explosions took place shortly before 9 a.m. in the adjoining Shiite districts of Shoula and Shukuk; within the next two hours, a building, home to a restaurant and children’s arcade, was dynamited in the western neighborhood of Allawi; and a car bomb exploded and another building was destroyed elsewhere western Baghdad.

At least 42 people were killed, including women and children, according to security sources and witnesses.

The attacks followed the massacre over the weekend of 25 Sunni Muslim men south of Baghdad, and suicide car bomb attacks against three foreign missions in the capital that claimed the lives of 41 people on Sunday.

Iraqis at the sites of the bombings expressed rage and demanded answers. Some worried that sectarian war, which convulsed Iraq in 2006 and 2007, might return.

“People will get sick and tired,” said Hassan Aboudi by the site of a collapsed building in Shoula. “We don’t wish this thing, but what will happen now? There are people without leaders.”

Others blamed the warring political sides for seeking to undermine one another after the election produced no decisive winner. The results left Prime Minister Nouri Maliki in a bitter contest with former premier Iyad Allawi, a secular Shiite, who won a slim plurality. The sides are in a race to see who can form a ruling coalition, and the competition has deteriorated along sectarian lines, with Maliki’s supporters calling Allawi the choice of Sunni extremists and the late Saddam Hussein’s former Baath Party.

Since the spate of violence over the weekend, Allawi has hammered Maliki’s government for failing to protect the nation, a move which could cause greater division and fuel tensions among both sides’ supporters.

“Unfortunately the government can’t stop these attacks and I don’t know what they were doing in the past five years,” Allawi told reporters near his headquarters in Baghdad as he donated blood for victims. “Who is responsible for these explosions? They are the terrorist forces but the government should protect the Iraqi people. Where is the protection of the Iraqi people?”

Faced with spiraling violence, U.S. officials insisted on Tuesday that Iraq was not on the precipice of a return to chaos. They also urged politicians to refrain from recriminations over the violence.

“If they want to be arguing political platforms that is all well and good . . . but when it comes to the security of the country they should be speaking more responsibly,” said Gary Grappo, the political councilor at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. “These attacks deserve the condemnation of all Iraqis and should be a rallying point for all Iraqis behind their security forces.”

Salman is a Times staff writer.