BAGHDAD — A homemade bomb followed by a suicide bomber ripped through a middle-class Baghdad neighborhood Thursday evening, killing at least 54 people, police said.
It was the second worst bombing this year in the Iraqi capital and the second significant attack this week. On Monday, two car bombs targeting the Iraqi army and police killed 16 people and injured 56.
Although security officials have announced that violence has decreased 60 percent since last March, insurgents continue to strike through suicide bombings and other means.
American soldiers stationed throughout Iraq said they feared that plans to reduce the number of U.S troops in Iraq to pre-"surge" levels by this summer could create more instability.
The American military plans to reduce its presence in places such as Baghdad and Anbar province and hand over security to the Iraqi police and army, which U.S. military leaders said was increasingly capable.
However, many top commanders and ground troops in Iraq told McClatchy last week that they're afraid a precipitous U.S. withdrawal would undermine recent security gains. Many said that it would be devastating if American troops had to return to areas that were now secure and sustain more casualties retaking them from insurgents and militias.
Thursday's attack is considered the second worst so far this year in Baghdad. On Feb. 1, two female suicide bombers detonated less than 20 minutes apart in separate animal markets, killing 98 people.
After a low of 76 people killed in Baghdad in November, February was the third straight month to see an increase in violence in the city, with 172 killed.
In Thursday's incident, the first bomb exploded at about 6:45 p.m. on Al Attar Street in Karrada, a neighborhood in eastern Baghdad. Police officers and Iraqi soldiers responded to the blast, and a suicide bomber detonated in the gathered crowd.
Many people were on the commercial street shopping on the warm evening before heading home for the weekend.
Earlier in the evening, officials described the incident as two improvised explosive devices and said eight people had been killed. But late Thursday, police officials said a male suicide bomber had detonated the second explosion and that the deaths had reached 54, with 123 injured. Four hospitals received the casualties.
Statistics compiled by U.S. officials in Iraq show that attackers increasingly are using suicide vests because they'sre having a harder time getting cars bombs near populated areas, American military officials said. According to the U.S. military figures, the number of suicide vest bombers rose from from 15 in December to 19 last month.
(Lannen writes for the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader.)