BAGHDAD A car bomb ripped through a busy commercial street in a Shiite area of Baghdad on Tuesday, killing at least 51 people and wounding scores more in the deadliest blast in the capital in more than three months.
Many victims were trapped in their apartments by a raging fire that engulfed at least one building, according to police and Interior Ministry officials, who also said about 75 people were wounded. Stunned survivors stumbled through the rubble-strewn street, which was filled with the smoke from burning vehicles, witnesses said.
The attack shattered the relative calm in the capital since a May 11 cease-fire ended seven weeks of fighting between U.S. and Iraqi forces and Shiite militants in the Sadr City district. Ironically, it came the same day the Iraqi parliament announced plans to move outside the U.S.-protected Green Zone.
Angry survivors blamed the army and police for failing to protect them.
"The blast occurred because there wasn't any security presence by the Iraqi army or police at the scene, not even any checkpoint," said Khalid Hassan, 40, who suffered shrapnel wounds and burns. "People were confused, upset and running in all directions. We are all victims of terrorism and carelessness."
The bomber struck about 5:45 p.m. near a market and bus stop in the Hurriyah district of west Baghdad, scene of some of the most horrific sectarian massacres during the wave of Sunni-Shiite slaughter in 2006.
Kamil Jassim, a witness, said the blast set fire to a generator used by residents and shopkeepers to supplement city power. The fire quickly spread to a two-story building containing both shops and apartments where many of the victims were found.
Haider Fadhil, a 25-year-old metal worker, said he was shopping with two friends when the blast hurled him to the ground.
"When I regained consciousness, I found that my left hand and leg were broken," Fadhil said from his bed in a nearby hospital, where anguished families wept as they jammed the waiting rooms. "Thanks be to God for saving me and thanks to those who carried me in their pickup truck to the hospital."
The blast was the deadliest attack in Baghdad since March 6, when a pair of bombs detonated in the mostly Shiite district of Karradah, killing 68 people and wounding about 120.
No group claimed responsibility for Tuesday's blast, and both Sunni and Shiite militants have used car bombs in their attacks.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement condemning the attack and offering "heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims of this heinous attack."
U.S. officials said American soldiers were attending a meeting of a neighborhood action committee about 150 yards from the blast site but it was unclear if they were the target.
"This is a senseless and tragic event," said Lt. Col. Steve Stover, a spokesman for the U.S. military's Baghdad command. "What's to gain by terrorizing the population? ... This is simply an evil act."
U.S. commanders have warned repeatedly that the relative peace in Baghdad is fragile because extremists, including al-Qaida in Iraq and Shiite militants, remain capable of high-profile attacks.
The Americans hope that security measures are enough to prevent extremists from mounting a sustained campaign of bombings against civilians that could provoke a return to sectarian reprisal attacks.
Despite the uncertainty, Iraqi officials have been eager to promote a sense of confidence among the war-weary Iraqi people after months of declining bloodshed in the capital.
Deputy parliamentary speaker Khalid al-Attiyah told lawmakers Tuesday that they will move from the convention center in the Green Zone to the Saddam Hussein-era National Assembly building for their next legislative term, which begins Sept. 1.
The move could help parliament affirm its independence from the Americans and shed its public image as an institution isolated from its people inside the U.S.-protected enclave.
"There is progress in the security situation and the reconstruction has been completed of the new building," al-Attiyah said, adding the new accommodations will be large enough for the full 275-member legislature and staff members.
The National Assembly building was used by the Iraqi parliament under Saddam and is located in the Allawi district, a religiously mixed area about 500 yards from the blast walls that form the perimeter of the Green Zone on the west side of the Tigris River.
It was looted and burned during the chaos that followed the fall of Baghdad to U.S. forces in April 2003. But al-Attiyah said its reconstruction has been completed.
Also Tuesday, an Iraqi state television journalist, Muhieddin Abdul-Hamid, was shot to death near his apartment in the northern city of Mosul, officials said.
Colleagues said the 50-year-old journalist was a local anchor for the TV station in Mosul, the focus of an ongoing U.S.-Iraqi operation against the last major urban stronghold of al-Qaida in Iraq.
Excluding Abdul-Hamid, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists says at least 129 journalists and 50 media support workers have been killed since the U.S. invasion in 2003.
In other violence Tuesday, a suicide bomber on a motorcycle struck a Baghdad checkpoint manned by U.S.-allied fighters, killing one and wounding four, officials said.
Another suicide car bomber attacked a police checkpoint in Baqouba, northeast of Baghdad, killing one policeman and wounding 19 other people, officials said.
Associated Press writer Sameer N. Yacoub contributed to this report.