BAGHDAD - Iraqi officials said Friday that a blistering string of attacks across the country the previous day killed at least 93 people and wounded many more, as the extent of the violence grew clearer and mourners began to bury their dead.
It was Iraq's second deadliest day since U.S. troops left in December, surpassed only by a co-ordinated wave of killings last month. Thursday's attacks seemed meant to strike fear in Iraqis and undermine faith in the Shiite-led government's security measures, ahead of what was supposed to be a festive holiday weekend.
There was no claim of responsibility for Thursday's strikes. Coordinated bombings and related attacks are a favourite tactic of the al-Qaida offshoot, known as the Islamic State of Iraq.
Since the beginning of August, more than 190 people have been killed in violence across Iraq, showing that insurgents led by al-Qaida's Iraqi franchise remain a lethal force eight months after the last U.S. troops left the country.
"Al-Qaida wants to send a clear message to the Iraqi people that the terrorists are still strong and able to harm them despite the huge amount of funds spent on the Iraqi security forces," said Shiite lawmaker Hakim al-Zamili, a member of the parliament's security and defence committee. "The terrorists want to tell the Iraqi people that the security forces are still incapable of protecting them."
Officials had feared an upsurge in violence coinciding with the Eid al-Fitr holiday that marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan this weekend. Steps have been taken to ramp up security measures to protect the crowds who gather in public places such as mosques, parks and restaurants to celebrate.
Thursday's attacks began early in the north of Iraq and ended with deadly bomb explosions near busy markets, restaurants and ice cream parlours before midnight.
Car bombs were to blame for many of the deaths, though attackers also deployed smaller explosives and shot some of the victims. A suicide bomber claimed seven lives when he blew himself up inside a tea shop in Tal Afar, some 420 kilometres (260 miles) northwest of the capital.
"I am appalled at the wave of heinous attacks that shook the country throughout the day yesterday," the United Nations envoy to Iraq, Martin Kobler, said in a statement. "They violate the spirit of peace associated with this holiest of times in the Muslim year."
Among the higher casualty numbers disclosed Friday were 21 people killed when a car bomb detonated shortly before midnight near an ice cream shop in Baghdad's predominantly Shiite Zafaraniyah neighbourhood, according to police and hospital officials.
Another bomb exploded near an ice cream parlour and fruit and vegetable stalls in the capital's Sadr City, another poor Shiite district. The black, mangled car sat in the middle of the street Friday. Broken plastic chairs and blood-stained fixtures littered the sidewalk. That blast killed 14, authorities said.
Officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the tolls to reporters.
Hassan Karim, 23, was in the Sadr City ice cream shop chatting with friends when the bomb went off.
"I saw a big flash, followed by thunderous noise. ... I opened my eyes to find myself in the hospital with my left hand bandaged," he said. "Before yesterday, we thought there were still safe places to sit and have a nice time with friends, but with this explosion we know there is no safe place in Iraq. All the best security measures could not stop terrorists from killing people."
Dozens of people carried the coffins of relatives through the streets of the neighbourhood Friday. Some mourners wept, while others sought solace by chanting "God is great."
The attacks Thursday coincided with the release of a video purporting to show an al-Qaida raid on the western town of Haditha in March. The SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks Islamist extremist messages, said the nearly 50-minute video was produced by the Islamic State of Iraq's media arm and posted on jihadi web forums Thursday.
Assailants in the Haditha raid killed 25 policemen, at one point raising the al-Qaida battle flag, before most managed to escape into the desert.
Al-Qaida's Iraq branch has said it aims to make a comeback in predominantly Sunni areas from which it was routed by the U.S. and its local allies after sectarian fighting peaked in 2007. It has for years had a hot-and-cold relationship with the global terror network's leadership.
Both shared the goal of targeting the U.S. military in Iraq and, to an extent, undermining the Shiite government that replaced Saddam Hussein's regime. But al-Qaida leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri distanced themselves from the Iraqi militants in 2007 for also killing Iraqi civilians instead of focusing on Western targets.
Generally, al-Qaida in Iraq does not launch attacks or otherwise operate beyond Iraq's borders. But in early 2012, al-Zawahri urged Iraqi insurgents to support the Sunni-based uprising in neighbouring Syria against President Bashar Assad, an Alawite. The sect is an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
Thursday's attacks, which included several bombings in the ethnically mixed northern flashpoint of Kirkuk, were Iraq's deadliest in weeks.
On July 23, a string of co-ordinated blasts and shootings left 115 people dead. Al-Qaida later claimed responsibility for those attacks, which it said marked the start of a campaign called "Breaking the Walls" that was announced by the local insurgency's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Associated Press writer Sameer N. Yacoub contributed reporting.