BAGHDAD (AP) -- Car bombs ripped through crowded areas at lunch hour in the former Sunni insurgent strongholds of Baqouba and Ramadi on Tuesday as more than 50 people were killed in one of the deadliest days in Iraq in months.
A parked car bomb also targeted a police patrol in central Baghdad, killing four civilians who were passing by and wounding 15 other people, police said.
Nobody claimed responsibility for Tuesday's attacks, but they bore the hallmarks of al-Qaida and came after weeks of few car bombings or suicide attacks.
The first attack occurred in Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, when an explosives-laden car parked in front of a restaurant exploded just before noon across the street from the courthouse and other government offices in the city center.
Many of the victims were people visiting the government offices, petition writers helping people with documents in stalls outside or the occupants of cars that were caught in the explosion as they passed through the area, witnesses said. Several cars and minibuses were set ablaze, while more than 10 shops and the restaurant were heavily damaged.
One man who was there described a huge fire that sent black smoke billowing into the sky and left charred bodies inside their cars.
"I was on my way to the government office when a big explosion occurred near site," said the witness, who would only identify himself by his nickname Abu Ali. "As I approached the site, I saw cars on fire, burned bodies and damaged shops damaged with shattered glass everywhere."
At least 38 people were killed and 64 wounded in the blast, according to police and hospital officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to release the information.
The U.S. military in northern Iraq gave a lower casualty toll of 20 local citizens killed and 35 wounded based on initial reports.
It was the deadliest blast in Baqouba since Oct. 29, when 27 people were killed in a suicide bombing outside a police camp in the city.
Another parked car bomb exploded near a kebab restaurant at about 12:30 p.m. in Ramadi, killing at least 14 people and wounding 14 others, police Lt. Col. Jubair al-Dulaimi said. He said the attack occurred in an area known as the Five Kilometers area for its distance west of the city center.
Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, is the capital of Anbar province and has largely been sealed off by checkpoints.
Like Baqouba, the area has seen a sharp decline in violence in recent months as tribal leaders have joined forces with the Americans against al-Qaida in Iraq.
The U.S. military said overall attacks in Diyala province have dropped more than 76 percent since June 2007.
The relative calm in predominantly Sunni areas has coincided with a burst of Shiite violence as militia fighters clashed with U.S. and Iraqi forces in Baghdad and the oil-rich southern city of Basra.
U.S. soldiers backed by an airstrike killed six militants earlier Tuesday after coming under small-arms fire during an operation in the Sudayrah area near Baghdad's main Shiite militia stronghold of Sadr City, the military said.
Iraqi police in the area claimed that two boys were among those killed in the airstrike, but the military said no civilian casualties were reported.
Associated Press writers Hamid Ahmed and Sinan Salaheddin contributed to this report.
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