- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 27, 2009

BAGHDAD | Motorcycle bombs killed at least 20 people in separate attacks in Baghdad on Friday.

Most of the dead were in a crowded bazaar, part of an apparent trend toward increased use of motorcycles to thwart stepped-up security measures.

The attacks were the latest in a week of violence that has killed more than 200 people, with just four days to go before the deadline for U.S. combat troops to withdraw from cities.

The spike has raised fresh doubts about the ability of Iraqi forces to provide security and fight a stubborn insurgency as their American partners become less visible.

U.S. and Iraqi officials have warned they expect more violence in the days surrounding the deadline as militants stage a show of force to try to stoke sectarian bloodshed and undermine confidence in the government.

But American commanders and Iraqi leaders have insisted the withdrawal will go ahead as scheduled. Under a security pact, the Americans must pull back from cities by June 30 and from the entire country by the end of 2011.

The deadliest blast occurred just after 9 a.m. when a booby-trapped motorcycle exploded in a market packed with young people buying or selling the vehicles in central Baghdad, according to police and hospital officials.

Nobody claimed responsibility for the attack, but insurgents frequently target crowded market districts to try to maximize casualties. Police and hospital officials gave the death toll in the attack as 19 and said more than 50 people also were wounded.

Hours later, another explosives-laden motorcycle detonated in western Baghdad, killing at least one civilian and wounding three others.

The market has been hit by several bombings in the past, but Iraqis had resumed flocking to the area due to a sharp drop in violence.

Attacks in Iraq have continued on a daily basis despite the security gains of the past two years, but many of the recent bombings have been larger in terms of numbers killed.

The use of motorcycles underscores the resilience of militants as they adopt new tactics to penetrate the concrete walls and other measures aimed at preventing car bombs and suicide attacks.

The Associated Press has recorded four booby-trapped motorcycle bombings this month in Iraq that have killed at least 103 people, including one on June 24 in Baghdad’s Sadr City that killed 78 civilians and injured another 143 - one of the deadliest bombings this year.

Followers of anti-U.S. Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose movement is gearing up to contest national elections on Jan. 30, blamed the Americans for the recent bombings, saying they were using them as an excuse not to withdraw completely.

Sadrist protesters took to the streets in Baghdad’s Sadr City district and other cities after Friday prayers, burning American flags and denouncing the violence.

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