Baghdad: Rapid-fire bombings and mortar strikes killed 62 people and wounded 180 across Baghdad`s mostly Shiite neighbourhoods Tuesday night, calling into question the ability of Iraqi security forces to protect the capital.
The blasts came just two days after gunmen in Baghdad held a Christian congregation hostage in a siege that ended with 58 people dead.
The bombings began at about 6:15 p.m. and took place in at least 10 neighborhoods, involving booby-trapped cars, roadside bombs and mortar strikes. The attacks appeared directed mostly at the city`s majority Shiite population, though some blasts occurred in Sunni neighborhoods as well.
The most deadly blast happened when a parked car bomb exploded near a popular market in the Sadr City slum in eastern Baghdad, home to roughly 2 million Shiites. That attack killed 15 people and wounded 23.
The casualty information all came from police and hospital officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Earlier Tuesday, hundreds of grieving Christians and other Iraqis packed a funeral service for members of the faith killed in the militant siege on a Baghdad church. The attack, which an al-Qaida-linked group claimed it carried out, left 58 people dead and dozens wounded.
The complex attack carried out Sunday evening on parishioners celebrating Mass at the Our Lady of Salvation church in an affluent Baghdad neighborhood emphasized the ease with which militants can still strike in Iraq and the particularly dangerous position that the country`s Christians occupy among Iraq`s sectarian structure.
Iraq`s top Catholic prelate, Chaldean Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, urged the government to protect the nation`s Christian community and not let their promises just be ink on paper.
"We are gathered here in this sacred house to say farewell to our brothers who were just the day before yesterday exclaiming love and peace," Delly told a weeping congregation at the Chaldean St. Joseph Church in central Baghdad. "Now fate has decided that they will leave us."
Women in the crowd wore black and sobbed quietly as seven coffins draped in Iraqi flags and covered with flowers were carried up to the altar, where notables in the Christian community were gathered. Two of the dead were priests — at least one of whom was executed on the floor of the church by the militants almost as soon as the siege began.
One of the officials read a letter from Pope Benedict XVI to the crowd.
"For years the violence hasn`t stopped hitting this country, and Christians are becoming the target of these cruel terrorist attacks," the letter read.
During the memorial service Tuesday, a slight smell of burning incense wafted through the warm church. Some in the crowd held photos of the priests and others who died, as mourners slumped over the coffins placed on the altar.
Outside, parishioners were searched as they walked inside the building and cars were kept from getting close, a reflection of the security concerns that hang over Iraq on a daily basis.
Inside the building paying their respects were Iraq`s human rights minister, Wijdan Mikheil, who is a Christian; Ammar al-Hakim, a leader of one of Iraq`s Shiite religious parties, who at times had tears running down his face, and priests and nuns from across Baghdad.
Meanwhile, an Iraqi police commander was detained for questioning Tuesday in connection with the deadly attack. It was not immediately clear whether the police commander was believed to be involved in the attack or simply negligent.