Hundreds of angry Iraqis gathered on Thursday around the wreckage of a market bombing in Baghdad where 78 people were killed, demanding better protection from the government when U.S. troops pull back to rural bases, Reuters reported.
A string of blasts has cast doubt on Iraqi forces' ability to keep the lid on a stubborn insurgency as U.S. combat troops withdraw from towns and cities by June 30. More explosions on Thursday killed five policemen and at least two civilians.
Violence has dropped sharply across Iraq in the past year, but militants including Sunni Islamist al Qaeda continue to launch car and suicide bombings aimed at undermining the Shi'ite Muslim-led government and reigniting sectarian conflict.
Residents at the site of Wednesday's blast in Baghdad's Sadr City slum sobbed and hugged each other, and many furiously cursed the authorities. The blast came four days after U.S. soldiers handed control of the Shi'ite area to Iraqi forces.
"I expect more explosions," Mustafa Hussain, a 33-year-old grocer, told Reuters at the scene, where pieces of flesh, shreds of bloodied clothing and shoes still littered the area.
"Iraqi forces don't have enough experience and they don't check vehicles well at their checkpoints ... they must prove their abilities to the people."
Jawad Kadhim, a 40-year-old Sadr City taxi driver, said the attack was aimed at stoking sectarian hatred.
"The terrorist groups want to send a message that when the U.S. troops leave the cities there will be a security vacuum," he said. "Relaxed security and corruption at checkpoints is the main reason we fear what may come next."
In a statement, the United Nations envoy to Iraq called on Iraqis to avoid a return to the sectarian violence that nearly tipped Iraq into all out civil war in 2006 and 2007.
"We have long been aware that certain groups ... (are) hoping for a return to the dark days," Staffan de Mistura said.
"Our appeal to everyone ... is not to fall into the killers' trap and to avoid responding to this provocation in the way that they desperately want -- with sectarian hatred and violence."
A massive truck bomb killed 73 people near the northern city of Kirkuk on Saturday. That and the Sadr City market bombing were the bloodiest attacks in the country for more than a year.
Members of parliament delayed a grilling of the oil minister to denounce both bombings, and agreed to give the families of the Kirkuk blast victims one million dinars ($856.5) each.