By Leila Fadel and Aziz Alwan
Washington Post staff writers
Wednesday, April 7, 2010; A09
BAGHDAD -- A series of at least seven bombings ripped through mostly poor Shiite Muslim neighborhoods in the Iraqi capital Tuesday, killing at least 35 people and wounding at least 140, security officials said.
The attacks heightened fears that the Sunni Muslim insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq is trying to exploit the uncertainty following the March 7 parliamentary elections and start a sectarian war. Iraq was consumed by sectarian violence during the power vacuum that existed after the December 2005 elections.
Since Friday, about 90 people have been killed and more than 300 wounded in and around the capital in attacks blamed on al-Qaeda in Iraq.
U.S. intelligence officials declared two years ago that the group had been all but defeated. Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer and former White House special assistant on Middle East affairs, said the recent attacks may reflect a "gradual revival" of the group, "not back to its 2006 status but back from its nadir in 2008."
Other current and former intelligence officials and terrorism experts said the violence may simply reflect a renewed attempt by the group's leaders to exploit divisions after the elections. "You only need a handful of guys and explosive material and you can very easily inflict pain," said Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at Georgetown University.
Analysts fear that Iraqis will turn to insurgents and militias if they feel they have no government to protect them. Some say the U.S. military may need to reconsider its plan to draw down to 50,000 troops in Iraq by August.
"I think it's troubling," said Brett McGurk, a National Security Council official in the George W. Bush administration who is now with the Council on Foreign Relations. "The character of the target sets are different, and the pace of the attacks has accelerated. Given, also, that over the next four months Iraq probably won't have a government, the steep August timeline might be revisited."
U.S. officials urged "all sides to avoid inflammatory rhetoric or actions" and not to use "these attacks to make political statements," said Gary Grappo, chief of the U.S. Embassy's political section.
Already, the political bloc of secular Shiite Ayad Allawi, which won the plurality in Iraq's parliament, has issued fiery statements blaming Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, for failing to stop the violence. Both are trying to win enough allies to secure the top job in the government.
Maliki issued a statement Tuesday saying that a plan was in place to "double" security in the Baghdad area. "I also call on all parties and political forces to unite and stand by the security agencies and not to pour the fuel on the fire," he said.
In at least five of the attacks Tuesday morning, people rented rooms or stores in or around apartment buildings, put explosive devices inside and detonated them within less than an hour, security officials said.
In the Chikook neighborhood, where a large community of displaced Shiites had fled from Sunni violence, two people rented a restaurant and a small convenience store two weeks ago, security officials and residents said.
The store was rigged, and it detonated just before 9 a.m. Tuesday, toppling the front and back of an apartment building. As emergency workers extracted the injured, the scraps of a life destroyed hung from the shattered building: a yellow blanket, a child's clothes and one dresser drawer.
In central Baghdad, the same tactic was used to topple an apartment building, a video game store where children gathered and a traditional cafe in the Shawaka district of the old city, killing at least 11 people and wounding dozens.
As cranes removed the rubble, hundreds of people gathered; parents wailed outside the video game store, where their sons had been playing.
A woman screamed for her son: "Where are you, Mohammed, where are you?" She slapped her face and sobbed. "All this happened to you because I don't have money to buy you a PlayStation."
Some survivors warned that if civilians were left unprotected, it was only a matter of time before they would try to protect themselves.
"They should form the next government soon, because if they don't, only God knows what will happen next," said Abu Muhammed al-Rubaie, 45.
Staff writers Peter Finn and Joby Warrick in Washington and special correspondent Dalya Hassan in Baghdad contributed to this report.