A powerful car bomb exploded outside a Shi'ite Muslim administration office in central Baghdad on Monday, killing at least 18 people and wounding around 60 more, just days after six coordinated blasts rocked the Iraqi capital.
The attack on a Shi'ite-linked office comes at a sensitive time, with the country's fractious Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish political blocs wrangling over a crisis that threatens to unravel their delicate power-sharing agreement.
Monday's bomb targeted the Shi'ite Endowment - a government-run body that manages Shi'ite religious and cultural sites - leaving dead and wounded scattered along a main street nearby and damaging its headquarters, police said.
"It was a powerful explosion, dust and smoke covered the area. At first I couldn't see anything, but then I heard screaming women and children," said policeman Ahmed Hassan, who was at a nearby police station when the blast went off.
"We rushed with other police to help ... the wounded were scattered all around, and there were body parts on the main street," he said.
Violence in Iraq has fallen, but Sunni Islamist insurgents tied to al Qaeda are still capable of devastating attacks and often hit Shi'ite targets to stir up the kind of sectarian tensions that pushed Iraq close to civil war in 2006-2007.
On Thursday, a truck bombing in a marketplace, a car bomb and several roadside explosions killed at least 17 people and broke weeks of relative calm in Baghdad, where daily attacks claimed hundreds of victims at the height of the war.
It was the first major attack on the Iraqi capital since mid April when more than 20 bombs hit cities and towns across the country, killing 36 people. Al Qaeda's local affiliate, Islamic State of Iraq, claimed responsibility for those attacks.
Since the last American troops left in December, nine years after the invasion, tensions have been running high in Iraqi politics with critics of Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki threatening to seek a vote of no confidence against him.
Many Sunni and Kurdish leaders say they fear Maliki is shoring up Shi'ite power by sidelining them from power-sharing agreements. Maliki supporters counter his critics are obstructing the government to try to win more concessions.