The violence highlights potential security gaps as Iraqi forces increasingly take the lead role from U.S. forces in protecting Baghdad and key areas around the capital.
In the first bombing attack, in Baghdad’s Karada neighborhood, a suicide bomber killed 31 others lined up at a food giveaway station where the Iraqi police and the Red Crescent charity were distributing food aid parcels.
“I turned around as I fell to the ground a saw a big fire break out with black smoke,” said Issam Salim, 35, who was wounded by shrapnel as he waited for a bus about 30 yards from the explosion. “Women and children are crying from pain beside me in the hospital,” he told the Associated Press from his hospital bed.
The second bombing, at a restaurant in the Diyala province about 50 miles northeast of Baghdad, killed 47 people and wounded 63, local police officials told the New York Times. Most of the victims were Iranian pilgrims visiting Shiite religious sites in Iraq.
Violence in Iraq has fallen sharply in the past year, but a recent uptick in attacks has raised concerns as the U.S. military begins to scale back forces before a planned 2011 withdrawal, according to the Associated Press. A suicide bomber killed at least five people and wounded 15 Wednesday inside a mosque in central Iraq, and on Monday a suicide bomber killed four policemen in the Diyala province.
Meanwhile, Iraqi authorities said they arrested one of the most-wanted leaders of a militant network linked to al-Qaida. The reported capture of Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the head of the Islamic State of Iraq, could mark a setback to insurgents as they try to intensify attacks after a relative lull.
However, , Iraqi officials have reported al-Baghdadi’s arrest or killing before, only to acknowledge later that they were wrong. The U.S. military has even said al-Baghdadi could be a fictitious character used to give an Iraqi face to an organization dominated by foreign al-Qaida fighters.
The U.S. military could not confirm the arrest, spokesman 1st Lt. John A. Brimley told the AP.
In 2007, Iraq’s government reported that al-Baghdadi had been killed and released photos of what it said was his body. Later, security officials said they had arrested al-Baghdadi. In both cases, the U.S. military said at the time it could not be confirmed — and the reports turned out not to be true.