BAGHDAD — A parked car exploded Wednesday night in the Shula neighborhood of northern Baghdad, killing at least 34 people and wounding at least 72, police said.
The bomb went off at 7:30 outside a restaurant and ice cream parlor on one of the first hot nights of the year.
Bombers also targeted the predominantly Shiite Muslim neighborhood of Shula last Christmas, killing four people.
Wednesday night's car bomb is the deadliest of this year in Baghdad so far, based on daily violence reports compiled by McClatchy. A roadside bomb that killed 40 people went off in January.
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After two years of horrific sectarian violence between Sunni Muslims and Shiites in 2006 and 2007, the security situation in the country has improved significantly, but a spasm of bombings in April reminded Iraqis that the relative peace remains fragile.
The capital has been mostly calm this month, but violence has flared up along the fault line between Sunni Arabs and Kurds in the northern city of Mosul.
Wednesday's bombing came as U.S. combat troops are preparing to pull out of major cities by the end of June, leaving them to Iraqi security forces.
"The targeting of innocent people — women, children and old men — is completely unacceptable," said Hamdullah al Rikabi, a spokesman for the Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr. Rikabi questioned how the explosives got into the neighborhood past the checkpoint.
Checkpoints are everywhere in Baghdad, and many of the guards are equipped with metal wands meant to sniff out the telltale chemicals emitted by explosives. Rikabi said that all the checkpoints heading into Shula had at least two of the devices.
"The armed groups want to make a statement that the security situation is still unstable," said Abdulkarim al Samarrai, a Sunni member of parliament and a member of the Security and Defense Committee, "but in spite of their efforts everyone can see that these are just the death throes of the terrorists."
Casualties from Wednesday night's bombing were taken to three Baghdad hospitals: al Nur, al Yarmouk and Kadmiya General, police said.
(Issa is a McClatchy special correspondent. Dolan reports for The Miami Herald.)
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