Car bombs shook Baghdad Tuesday, killing at least 127 people and wounding more than 500, officials said. In the worst attacks since late October, police say the bombers struck five sites in the Iraqi capital in less than 30 minutes during the morning rush hour.
The bombings came as officials agreed to set March 7 as the date for national elections. U.S. and Iraqi officials have expressed concerns that an increase in violence would mar the country's elections and delay a planned U.S. troop withdrawal set for 2010.
On Tuesday, police and military trucks screamed along the highway, headed toward a plume of black smoke rising from the Baghdad district called Cairo, where a suicide attacker had blown up his car near the Ministry of Labor.
At the bomb site, police and soldiers searched a blackened zone of broken glass, engine oil and debris. Burned and mangled wrecks of cars ringed a crater blasted 6 feet into the concrete roadway.
Police loudspeakers warned civilians away, as rescue workers carried sagging black body bags that looked far too small to hold a complete body.
A dazed-looking young man stood off to the side, his face and hand bandaged, his neck and collar smeared with blood. He said he was driving in the nearby intersection when the blast hit.
He said he felt a tremendous rush of wind that lifted his car and smashed out the windows, but he remembered little else.
Similar scenes played out at four other sites across the city, including a court building and the temporary quarters of the Finance Ministry, which was forced to move after its building was wrecked by bomb attacks in August.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told reporters that the attacks bore the hallmarks of al-Qaida and the outlawed Baath party of former dictator Saddam Hussein. He said the goal was to create chaos in Iraq before the national elections.
In Parliament, lawmakers demanded to know why the government hasn't improved security after the previous bombings. Hassan al-Shimmery, a member of Parliament from the Fadheela Party, said the government deserves a big share of the blame for the attacks.
He charged that corrupt officials in the security ministries — defense and interior — put personal profit before the safety of the public. Shimmery went on to charge that officials went against the advice of American experts and spent millions of dollars on explosive detection devices that don't work.
In Tuesday attacks, the killers managed to drive cars loaded with explosives into crowded areas dotted with police and army checkpoints.
Amid the wreckage near the Labor Ministry, police stood aside for a thin young man in blue coveralls, pushing a wheelbarrow. He said his name was Mohammed, and he looked about 17.
He was passing by, he said, and came to see what happened. "It's very bad," he said. "Is this all because of the elections? We don't want such a stinking government."
Mohammed's wheelbarrow was piled with ragged, dirt-crusted chunks of human flesh. He walked on, pushing it toward the Red Crescent ambulance where the body bags were stacked.