A new wave of car bombs ripped through commercial areas in the Iraqi capital and areas to the south Tuesday, killing at least 33 people and wounding dozens in the latest co-ordinated militant assault, officials said.
The blasts came as a firebrand Shiite cleric delivered a blistering criticism of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in a rare televised address. Muqtada al-Sadr also reiterated his earlier declaration that he was retiring from politics.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the explosives-laden parked cars that detonated Tuesday. But their targets, shopping streets and bus stations, are frequently hit by the al-Qaida breakaway group that is the country's main insurgent force, as it tries to undermine government efforts to maintain security. The group, known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant, has taken responsibility for similar attacks before.
In Baghdad, four such bombings killed at least 17 people and wounded 49 others. The deadliest hit a bus station, leaving seven dead and 18 wounded.
Police say another four bombs went off simultaneously in the southern city of Hillah, killing at least 11 people and wounding 35 others. Hillah is about 60 miles (95 kilometres) south of Baghdad. Outside Hillah in the town of Musayyib, about 60 kilometres (40 miles) south of Baghdad, a parked car bomb explosion killed five civilians and wounded 13.
Medical officials confirmed the figures. All spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release information.
The attacks came a day after a series of explosions in the capital left at least 23 dead. Iraq is experiencing a resurge in violence to levels unseen since the worst of the country's sectarian bloodletting began to subside in 2007.
Also Tuesday, al-Sadr repeated an earlier announcement that he was retiring from politics, but also called on his followers to vote in Iraq's upcoming elections and berated current rulers as "blood-thirsty wolves."
Speaking from his home in the southern revered Shiite city of Najaf, al-Sadr said he would not back specific candidates, but nonetheless said his followers should go to the polls in large numbers in April's vote to ensure the government "will not fall into the hands of dishonest and cunning people."
He did not make clear why he had retired, although he levelled harsh criticisms at politicians in his movement who he said had exploited the al-Sadr family name.
Al-Sadr first announced that he had decided to quit politics in a statement on Saturday. He has made such announcements before, but the declarations in recent days have been more emphatic than in the past.