People inspect a car destroyed in a car bomb attack close to one of the main gates to the heavily-fortified Green Zone, which houses major government offices and the embassies of several countries, including the United States and Britain in Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, March 19, 2013. (Credit: AP)
A wave of bombings tore through the Baghdad area Tuesday, killing 57 people on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion and showing how unstable Iraq remains more than a year after the withdrawal of American troops.
Violence has ebbed sharply since the peak of Sunni-Shiite fighting that pushed the country to the brink of civil war in 2006-2007. But insurgents maintain the ability to stage high-profile attacks while sectarian and ethnic rivalries continue to tear at the fabric of national unity.
The symbolism of Tuesday's attacks was strong, coming 10 years to the day that Washington launched the invasion with a "shock and awe" campaign of airstrikes on March 19, 2003 — before dawn the following day in Iraq.
Tuesday's attacks were mostly by car bombs and targeted mainly Shiite areas, small restaurants, day laborers and bus stops in the Iraqi capital and nearby towns over a span of more than two hours.
Along with 57 killed, over 200 people were wounded in the attacks, officials said.
The bombings came 10 years to the day that Washington announced the start of the invasion on March 19, 2003 — though by that time it was already the following morning in Iraq. A new CBS News poll found 54 percent of Americans say going to war with Iraq was not the right thing to do. Nearly 7 in ten backed the war when it started.
Also on Tuesday, Iraq's Cabinet decided to postpone upcoming provincial elections in two provinces dominated by the country's minority Sunnis for up to six months. The decision followed requests from the political blocs in the provinces, according to the prime minister's spokesman, Ali al-Moussawi.
The two provinces affected, Anbar and Ninevah, have been at the center of the nearly three-month-long protests against Iraq's Shiite-led government. Provincial elections were scheduled for April 20.
One of the deadliest of Tuesday's attacks struck close to one of the main gates to the heavily-fortified Green Zone, which houses major government offices and the embassies of several countries, including the United States and Britain. That blast outside a restaurant killed six people, including two soldiers, and wounded more than 15. Thick black smoke could be seen rising from the area as ambulances raced to the scene.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blasts, but the attacks bore hallmarks of al Qaeda in Iraq. The terror group favors spectacular, coordinated bombings intended to undermine public confidence in the Shiite-led government.
Police and hospital officials who provided accounts of the days' bloodshed reported the most casualties from a car bombing near the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs in Baghdad's eastern Qahira neighborhood at around 10 a.m. That blast killed seven people and wounded 21.
The officials provide casualty numbers on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information to journalists.
The violence started at around 8 a.m., when a bomb exploded outside a popular restaurant in Baghdad's Mashtal neighborhood, killing four people and wounding 15. It blew out the eatery's windows and left several cars mangled in the blood-streaked street.
Minutes later, two day laborers were killed and eight were wounded when a roadside bomb hit the place where they gather every day in an area of New Baghdad.
The sprawling Shiite slum district of Sadr City was hit by three explosions that killed 10 people, including three commuters on a minibus.
Hussein Abdul-Khaliq, a government employee who lives in Sadr city, said he heard the explosion and went out to find the minibus on fire.
"We helped take some trapped women and children from outside the burning bus before the arrival of the rescue teams. Our clothes were covered with blood as we tried to rescue the trapped people or to move out the bodies," he said.
"Today's attacks are new proof that the politicians and security officials are a huge failure," he said.
Other attacks struck the largely Shiite neighborhoods of Hussainiyah, Zafarniyah, Shula and Utaifiya, as well as the Sunni district of Tarmiyah.
Just outside the capital, a mortar shell landed near a clinic in the town of Taji, killing two people and wounding five. And about 30 miles south of Baghdad, in Iskandiriyah, a car bomb exploded near a bus stop, killing five people and wounding 20.
Tuesday's attacks came a day after insurgents killed nine people, including a bombing by a suicide attacker who killed five when he drove an explosives-laden car into a checkpoint in the central Iraqi town of Balad Ruz.
Al Qaeda's Iraq arm, which operates under the name the Islamic State of Iraq, has sought to reassert its presence in recent weeks.
Last week, the group claimed responsibility for a highly coordinated attack earlier this month in far western Iraq that killed nine Iraqis and 51 Syrian soldiers who had sought temporary refuge in the country.
And on Sunday, al Qaeda's Iraq branch took responsibility for a brazen and again highly coordinated raid on the Justice Ministry in downtown Baghdad last week. The attack, involving car bombs and gunmen disguised as police, killed at least 24 people.