The twin explosions hit Baghdad's Karrada district, which has seen a relative calm for weeks amid a U.S. security crackdown in the capital and on regions to the north and south, where al Qaeda and Sunni insurgents are believed to prepare their deadly car bombs.
Violence has eased somewhat in Baghdad recently, but militants have demonstrated they can still carry out car bomb strikes there — if at a lower rate than in the past — despite the American sweep.
Insurgents also appear to be moving further north to unleash out their devastating attacks in less protected regions beyond the U.S. offensive on Baghdad's northern doorstep — such as Armili, the Shiite Turkoman farming town north of Baghdad that was hit in Saturday's truck bombing.
The toll from the attack was still not clear. Abdullah Jabara, deputy governor of Salahuddin province where the town is located, said Saturday the toll from the blast was 115 dead — nearly three-quarters of them women, children and elderly.
On Sunday, Brig. Abbas Mohmmed Amin, chief of police in the nearby city of Tuz Khurmato, put the toll at 150 dead, while Abbas al-Bayati, a Shiite Turkoman lawmaker, told reporters 130 had been killed.
The count was difficult because of the town's remote location and because many of the dead initially had been buried under rubble that took hours to clear. Saturday's blast ripped through the town market during crowded morning shopping, destroying dozens of old mud-brick homes and shops.
Armili residents on Sunday buried about 70 of the dead. Mourners flowed into mosques and funeral tents set up in the town's main street, where black banners were hung on the walls with names of the dead.
Iraqi army and police forces were out in increased numbers in the streets and closed off entrances to the town to prevent attacks on the funerals — a frequent target of Sunni insurgents, Amin said.
Al-Bayati sharply criticized the security situation in the town, saying an Iraqi army battalion was moved out of the Armili region to Baghdad earlier this year to help in the crackdown in the capital. He said Armili's police force had only 30 members, saying the Interior Ministry had approved an increase in the force only two days before the attack.
U.S. forces are waging an offensive in the city of Baquba, just north of Baghdad, to uproot al Qaeda militants and Sunni insurgents using the region to launch attacks in the capital. But American commanders acknowledged that many extremists fled Baquba before the sweep began in mid-June.
Al-Bayati said Sunni insurgents had fled to the Himrin region, a swathe of mountains southeast of Armili, between it and Baquba.
Armili residents say regions like theirs are being left exposed and vulnerable. Tensions are constantly high between the town's Shiite Turkoman population and the Sunni Arabs who dominate the surrounding villages. Iraqi security presence is scant in the remote region, far from Salahuddin's administrative center and the eye of officials.
"The number of Iraqi police and army in this area is too low. This is a farming area with a lot of empty areas, so it's neglected. There's not even much presence of government officials," said Haytham Khalaf, 37, an Amirli resident whose niece was injured. He accused local Sunnis of helping al Qaeda set up a presence there.
The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, told The Associated Press on Saturday he expected Sunni extremists to try to "pull off a variety of sensational attacks and grab the headlines to create a `mini-Tet."'
He was referring to the 1968 Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Tet offensive that undermined public support for the Vietnam War in the United States.
In Baghdad, the twin car bombs on Sunday struck around 10:30 a.m. The first exploded near a restaurant that was closed at the time. The blast destroyed stalls and soft-drink stands, killing two passers-by and wounding eight others, a police official said. The area is near the offices of the Supreme Islamic Council in Iraq, the biggest Shiite party in parliament.
About five minutes later, the second car exploded about a mile) away, hitting shops selling leather jackets and shoes. Six people were killed and seven wounded, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
Also Sunday, the military announced that an American soldier was killed in combat a day earlier in Salahuddin province. It did not provide details.
The U.S. military may be forced to tolerate attacks further north as they focus on pacifying Baghdad and its surroundings, hoping that calm in the capital will give the government time to take key political steps. Washington is pressing Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to pass measures to encourage Sunni Arabs to turn away from support of the insurgency to back the government.
Efforts to pass the measures, however, continue to be tied down in political feuding between Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish parties in al-Maliki's fragile coalition. At the same time, tensions have risen with the movement of anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, a former ally of the prime minister.
Clashes broke out Saturday between police and the Sadr movement's militia, the Mahdi Army, in Suwayrah, 25 miles south of Baghdad, killing three civilians and wounding eight, according to a morgue official. Police and Mahdi Army fighters battled for days earlier this week in Samawah, further south.
Al-Maliki on Saturday accused the Sadr movement of being infiltrated by Baathists and gangs in one of his harshest criticisms against the group, and he demanded Sadrist leaders stop violence being carried out in the group's name.
In other developments:
The troops were hit by bombs, rocket-propelled grenades and small arms during an arrest operation in the city before dawn, the military said in a statement. Coalition aircraft destroyed roadside bombs as the British soldiers were extracted from the city, it said.
Britain has withdrawn hundreds of troops from Iraq, leaving a force of around 5,500 based mainly on the fringes of Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, 340 miles southeast of Baghdad. British bases come under frequent mortar attacks from Shiite militias. The U.S. currently has about 155,000 troops in Iraq.