Two suicide bombers blew themselves up Thursday in a crowded outdoor market in a Shiite city south of Baghdad, killing 45 people and wounding 150, police said.
The attackers strolled into the Maktabat outdoor market in the center of Hillah about 6 p.m. as shoppers were buying food for their evening meals. Police said they thought one of the men appeared suspicious and stopped him.
The bomber then detonated his explosives and the second attacker, who was walking behind him, set off his, police added.
The attack killed 45 people and wounded 150, said Capt. Muthanna Khaled, police spokesman in the southern province of Babil, of which Hillah is the capital.
Hillah, about 60 miles south of Baghdad, was the scene of one of the deadliest attacks in the war, when a suicide car bomber killed 125 people on Feb. 28, 2005.
Also, car bombs struck mostly Shiite targets in Baghdad on Wednesday, and the bodies of three Sunni professors and a student were found days after they were seized while leaving their campus in a Shiite part of the city.
At least 43 people were reported killed across Iraq, including a U.S. soldier.
The violence underscored the extreme difficulties facing the capital's 6 million residents as they try to go about their daily lives as U.S. and Iraqi forces gear up for a planned security sweep to clear the city of Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias who are blamed for many of the attacks.
Maamoun Abdel-Hadi said he was standing with a friend near his car when a mortar shell fell on the predominantly Sunni neighborhood of Azamiyah in northern Baghdad. The area was hit by nine mortar shells that damaged houses, shops and streets, killing six people and wounding 20, police and hospital officials said.
"We fell on the ground ... I saw four wounded persons lying on the ground and screaming for help. We put them in the car and rushed them to the hospital," Abdel-Hadi said. "We are peaceful people who have nothing to do with any militias or armed groups. What is the guilt of innocent children, women and men who were walking in the street?"
Jamal Ahmed mournfully examined his Mitsubishi car that had been burned in the attack.
"Repairing my car will cost me a fortune, yet I thank God because I am safe and unhurt," he said.
The mortar attack struck about 2 p.m., hours after car bombs hit Shiite targets elsewhere in the capital in what has become a common pattern in the violence plaguing Baghdad.
In other developments:
A car bomb also struck a predominantly Shiite area in eastern Baghdad after the driver parked near a currency exchange office, then walked away, killing two people and wounding 10, police said.
The shop's owner said the attacker came in to ask permission to park the car and exchange some money.
"A seemingly normal person parked this car and told us that he would not be long," said the owner, who identified himself as Abu Talal. "When that person disappeared for more than 20 minutes, we tried to call the police but the car exploded."
Shop owners often insist that motorists get permission before parking their cars due to the frequent car bombings in the capital.
Insurgents have launched several bombings in the capital in recent weeks as they seek to maximize the number of people killed before U.S. and Iraqi troops launch a neighborhood-by-neighborhood sweep of the capital. Iraqi authorities have promised to crack down on Sunni insurgents as well as the Shiite militia violence that has spiraled since the Feb. 22, 2006, bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra.
In all, 42 Iraqis were killed or found dead nationwide. Among them were 20 bodies, many bearing signs of torture, apparently the latest victims of sectarian death squads.
The three professors and a student were abducted by gunmen on Sunday as they left Nahrain University's law school in a predominantly Shiite neighborhood in northern Baghdad, according to the Ministry of Higher Education.
Nahrain University, formerly called Saddam University, is one of the main educational institutions in Baghdad. Its main campus is in the Jadriyah area on the southeastern banks of the Tigris, but the law school is in Kazamiyah.
Nobody claimed responsibility for the attack. Academics have been frequent victims of the rising sectarian violence, often targeted due to their relatively high public stature and vulnerability. Some professors also have been killed by students angered over poor grades or other grievances, or because of their past membership in the Baath party of Saddam Hussein.
"The continuation of the assaults on higher education and the bloodshed of its sons show again the presence of dark forces that try to stop the country's progress and try to spread hatred among the people of one country," the ministry said in a statement.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, meanwhile, offered a new endorsement of President Bush's plan to augment American forces by 21,500 to help stem the violence, but stressed that he considered it "a support to our Baghdad security plan," which would be an Iraqi-led operation.
He also said they would only ask for extra troops as a last resort. "We agree this will be assessed by those in the field, the military commanders," he told CNN.