BAGHDAD — April was the bloodiest month for violence in Baghdad in more than a year, another sign that Iraq's security gains are beginning to reverse.
President Barack Obama acknowledged Wednesday night that violence has risen in recent weeks, but he said the levels of violence were still below last year's.
Calling recent bombings "a legitimate cause for concern," Obama said "civilian deaths . . . remain very low compared to what was going on last year."
But statistics kept by McClatchy show that in Baghdad alone, more than 200 people have been killed in attacks so far this month, compared with 99 last month and 46 in February, according to a McClatchy count.
The last time McClatchy recorded more than 200 civilian deaths in one month in the capital was more than a year ago, in March 2008.
On Wednesday, a series of explosions killed at least 43 people, including at least 41 who were killed in Sadr City, a sprawling Shiite Muslim slum in east Baghdad. Three bombs hidden in parked cars detonated in quick succession along a busy commercial street around 5 p.m., an official with Iraq's interior ministry said. At least 68 were wounded, and authorities said they expect the death toll to rise.
"It was chaos in the streets," said one witness, Wissam Hassan.
Two more car bombs detonated in Baghdad's Hurriyah neighborhood Wednesday night, killing at least two people and wounding eight.
Large-scale bombings targeting civilians have been on the rise since March, and there is widespread concern among Iraqis that the violence may quickly spread as the U.S. begins to draw down.
American officials have said they don't think the renewed violence marks a serious setback.
During a visit to Baghdad last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters the spike in attacks in not an indication that Iraq is regressing. She said she and Army Gen. Raymond Odierno, the top U.S. commander here, agree that the uptick in bombings shouldn't change American plans for withdrawal.
Outside analysts aren't so optimistic.
Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow and Iraq expert with the Brookings Institution, called the rise in violence "significant."
"There almost surely won't be a complete reversal" in the progress that's been made, he said in an e-mail. "But there could be an end to the progress and even a new, somewhat higher level of ongoing violence."
O'Hanlon speculated that anger among Sunni Muslim militiamen known as the Sons of Iraq may be partly to blame for the rise in attacks. Relations between the militia's members and Iraq's Shiite-led government are at an all-time high.
Rahim al Daraji, a former mayor of Sadr City, said the explosions there prove that Iraq's security forces aren't effective.
"This will push us back to the sectarian violence," he said. "The Shiites will be looking for revenge."
Hakim Mishchil, a 34-year-old nurse who lives in Sadr City, said one of the bombs went off within feet of an Iraqi Army checkpoint.
"What does this tell you?" he asked. "They are not doing their job."
Under an agreement signed last year between Washington and Baghdad, U.S. troops must leave Iraqi cities and hand control to local security forces by the end of June. President Barack Obama has pledged to withdraw most Americans from the country altogether by late 2010.
(Reilly reports for the Merced Sun-Star. Kadhim is a McClatchy special correspondent.)
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