BAGHDAD, Iraq - A suicide bomber struck Monday in a crowd gathered at the site of an explosion that moments earlier had damaged a bus filled with schoolgirls, with both blasts killing at least 31 people and wounding 71 others.
Also Monday, a female suicide bomber attacked a security checkpoint in downtown Baqouba, killing five people including a local leader of Sunni group opposed to al Qaeda, police said. Fifteen other people were wounded in that explosion, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad.
The twin blasts - the deadliest in Baghdad in months - occurred during the morning rush hour in the mostly Shiite Kasrah section of Azamiyah neighborhood in the northern part of the Iraqi capital. They shattered storefronts along a crowded street and set fire to more than a dozen cars.
Police said the first explosion damaged a minibus carrying young girls to school. The second happened when a suicide bomber detonated an explosive belt in the middle of a crowd that had gathered around the vehicle.
Police officials giving the toll were unclear how many died in each blast.
The Interior Ministry, which controls the police, gave the casualty figure of 31 dead and 71 wounded. A check of four hospitals in the Baghdad area provided the same count.
An Interior Ministry official speculated that extremists may have sought to "send a message" to President-elect Barack Obama about "the real situation in Iraq," pressure the government not to sign a new security agreement with the United States or embarrass the ruling parties ahead of regional elections in January.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was offering speculation.
The blasts shattered storefronts along the crowded street and set more than a dozen cars on fire.
Abbas Fadhil said he was working in a nearby restaurant that was damaged in the blasts.
"I rushed to the site and saw several girl students trapped in a bus and screaming for help. We took the girls outside the bus and rushed them to the hospitals," he said, standing in front of the damaged restaurant - his white shirt soaked with blood.
"This is a criminal act that targeted innocent people who were heading to work and school while the politicians are busy with their personal greed and ambitions," Fadhil said.
Associated Press Television News video showed the minibus pocked with shrapnel marks with the floor soaked in blood. Girls' shoes were scattered about amid the wreckage.
Ahmed Riyadh, 54, owner of a nearby grocery, said called it a "vicious attack" that "did not differentiate between Shiites and Sunnis."