Bomb attacks around Baghdad killed at least 19 people and wounded 80 yesterday as insurgents defied a security crackdown in the Iraqi capital.
The first blast echoed around the city at dawn, when a roadside booby-trap ripped open a minibus and a taxi in the downtown Nahda area, killing nine people and wounding eight, a interior ministry official said.
Almost immediately afterwards, two more blasts targeted a police patrol nearby, wounding three officers, he added.
Four hours later, two more bombs detonated in rapid succession in the crowded Shorjah market. Ten people were killed and 69 wounded in the blasts which set fire to several shops and sent a thick plume of black smoke above the skyline.
The attacks were the second in the space of a week on Shorjah. Five days ago 10 people were killed there when an explosive-laden moped detonated.
Five more people from Baghdad were killed yesterday in a bank robbery.
Gunmen in three cars raided the Al-Rasheed Bank in north central Baghdad, killing three guards and two bank employees. They escaped with 7 million dinars (less than US$5,000), an interior ministry official said.
The continued bombing is a direct challenge to efforts by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government to win back control of the capital and halt what many see as Iraq's slide towards civil war.
His two-month-old security plan -- Operation Forward Together -- has so far made little impact on the daily toll of bombings and death squad killings, but more military reinforcements are being sent to the city.
Maliki's US allies have also responded to the threat. More than 10,000 coalition troops are now supporting Forward Together, following the arrival at the weekend of the 3,700-strong 172nd Stryker Brigade.
"The situation in Baghdad is very difficult right now," the US commander in Iraq, General George Casey said yesterday in an interview with ABC television. "And we are working very closely with the new Iraqi government to improve the plan we had in place, to bring security in Baghdad."
Casey said Iraq was still a long way from a complete collapse of government and security forces or a civil war but that "the levels of sectarian violence in Baghdad in the last probably six weeks are higher than they've ever been."
Additional US and Iraqi troops are to be deployed to flashpoint mixed districts of the city, where violence between Sunnis and Shiites is at its worst, in order to quell the fighting, he said.
Yesterday's bombings, likely to be blamed on Sunni extremists attacking Baghdad's Shiite majority and seeking to undermine the government, can be expected to feed the cycle of revenge attacks by Shiite death squads.
Such killings leave around a dozen tortured corpses in the streets and waterways of Baghdad every day. According to the UN, nearly 6,000 Iraqis were killed in May and June alone, mostly in Baghdad.
Meanwhile, two Iraqi journalists were killed in separate incidents in Baghdad, police said yesterday. They are among scores of Iraqi media workers slain here since 2003.
Mohammed Abbas Hamad, 28, a journalist for the Shiite-owned newspaper Al-Bayinnah Al-Jadida, was shot by gunmen at he left his home on Monday in the Adil section of west Baghdad, police Commander Mohammed Khayoun said.
Late on Monday, police also found the bullet-riddled body of freelance journalist Ismail Amin Ali, 30, about 1km from where he was abducted two weeks ago in northeast Baghdad, Lieutenant Ahmed Mohammed Ali said.