Bombings kill 69 in Baghdad

BAGHDAD — A bomb ripped through a crowded market in Baghdad’s main Shiite district Wednesday, killing at least 69 people and wounding more than 100 less than a week before a deadline for U.S. combat troops to leave Iraq’s urban areas.

A series of blasts this week have killed more than 160 people, as U.S. and Iraqi officials warned they expected more violence before the U.S. withdrawal from cities.

American troops already have begun pulling back from the joint bases that they occupied with Iraqi security forces as part of a counterinsurgency strategy aimed at clearing volatile areas and holding them.

The recent spike in violence has raised new concern about the ability of Iraqi forces to protect the people, but a U.S. military spokesman insisted that American combat troops would be out of the cities by Tuesday as required by a security pact.

Brig. Gen. Steve Lanza said the recent high-profile attacks, which are usually blamed on Sunni insurgents, were part of an effort to rekindle sectarian violence that pushed the country to the brink of civil war.

“What’s important to understand is that the people have not responded to this,” he told reporters at a briefing at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad’s protected Green Zone.

In the past, bombings in Shiite areas would be followed by mortar attacks against Sunni strongholds or execution-style killings that were the signature of Shiite militias.

The explosion in Sadr City came just days after the U.S. military handed over to Iraqis its main base on the edge of the former Shiite militia stronghold.

The strategic district was used by Shiite militants to launch rockets onto the Green Zone during the last major fighting in the city in 2008.