By Ernesto Londono and Aziz Alwan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, November 2, 2010; 7:15 PM
BAGHDAD - A string of at least 20 explosions shook the Iraqi capital Tuesday night, most of them in Shiite neighborhoods, authorities said.
The rare coordinated attack, which included car bombings, roadside bombings and mortar fire, prompted officials to impose a curfew in the capital shortly after 8 p.m.
The blasts killed at least 63 people and wounded 285, Iraqi police officials said, citing early reports from the field. The Associated Press reported 76 killed, citing unidentified Iraqi officials.
Teams of American soldiers were dispatched to some of the blast sites to assist Iraqi security forces, military spokesman Lt. Col. Eric Bloom said, adding that U.S. military radar had picked up 13 to 17 explosions Tuesday night, none thought to be the result of a mortar or rocket attack. Bloom said the attacks appeared to be the work of the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq.
"This seems to be typical AQI tactics," he said in an e-mail.
U.S. soldiers have become a rare sight in Baghdad since June 2009, the deadline the Iraqi government set for Americans' nominal departure from cities as part of a bilateral agreement signed the year before.
Coming two days after an attack on a Baghdad Catholic church during Mass in which 58 people were killed, the newest wave of violence infuriated Iraqis. Many blamed the worsening security situation on their elected officials, who have been unable to form a government since parliamentary elections March 7.
"There is no government," said Baghdad resident Hamid Ahmed al-Azawi, 51. Referring to Iraq's political leaders, many of whom live inside the heavily fortified Green Zone, he added: "If the Americans leave tomorrow, we will assemble a team of 500 armed men to topple the Green Zone. How much longer are the Americans going to protect them?"
Lawmakers are at loggerheads over who is entitled to become prime minister and whether the post should be weakened.
As the blasts began thundering through the city shortly after sunset, Baghdadis huddled inside homes and merchants closed shops early. Traffic thinned, ambulances wailed and U.S. helicopters circled overhead as this violence-weary capital returned to a familiar defensive posture.
Sunni extremists have carried out coordinated bombings in Shiite areas in the past in an effort to stoke sectarian violence. The tactic succeeded in 2006 and 2007, but retaliatory sectarian attacks have diminished in recent years.
Violence has spiked sharply across Iraq in recent months, according to U.S. military data. Between June and September, 784 Iraqis were killed and nearly 3,000 were wounded in acts of violence, according to the quarterly report to Congress by the U.S. Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction that was released over the weekend.
Although the number of security incidents remains well below the levels of 2006 and 2007, it increased fivefold during the period covered in the report.
Alwan is a special correspondent.