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Car bombs tear through Baghdad neighborhoods, former insurgent stronghold of Fallujah; 36 dead

BAGHDAD (AP) — Three car bombs tore through Baghdad and the former insurgent stronghold of Fallujah Sunday, killing at least 36 people. The blasts in the capital were so powerful they sheared the sides off buildings and left streets choked with chunks of rubble.

It was the worst violence since the U.S. military dropped to 50,000 troops in Iraq and formally declared an end to combat operations on Sept. 1, saying Iraqi forces were up to the task of protecting their own country.

Insurgents have hammered Iraqi forces and government buildings, capitalizing on gaps in security as the U.S. scales back its military mission and Iraqi politicians fail to overcome divisions and form a new government after national elections in March.

Most of those killed in Sunday's apparently coordinated attacks in Baghdad were civilians, and residents of the areas bombed directed their anger at a government they feel has left the city vulnerable to repeated attacks despite a network of police and army checkpoints paralyzing traffic.

"I blame this tragedy only on the government officials who are competing for positions and letting us be victims of these bombings," said Abu Haidar, who was working in an office near one the bombed sites in Baghdad.

The deadliest attack took place in Baghdad's northern Kazimiyah neighborhood. A car bomb detonated near a local office of the National Security Ministry in Adan Square, killing at least 21 people and wounding more than 70, police and hospital officials said.

So much pulverized cement filled the area that heavy earth-moving equipment had to be brought in to clear streets.

"It was a big explosion and dust and smoke filled my house," said Abu Shahad, who lives about 200 yards from the blast site. "I went out and saw a big black cloud hanging over the area where the bomb exploded, and I rushed there because I have relatives living there."

He said his cousin and her child were killed and another cousin was wounded.

Minutes earlier, another car bomb killed at least 10 people and injured 10 others along a commercial artery of Baghdad's Mansour neighborhood, said army Brig. Gen. Ali Fadhal, who is responsible for the western half of the city.

The bomb detonated near an AsiaCell store, one of Iraq's biggest mobile phone providers. The company's chief executive, Diar Ahmed, could not confirm if the company's biggest store in Baghdad was the target. He said most of the 40 employees who were in the shop at the time of the blast were injured, three of them seriously.

Abu Haidar, who worked in an office near the Mansour blast said the explosion shattered windows in his office and brought a section of the ceiling down on one customer. The blast ripped off large sections of the concrete walls from the surrounding buildings and showered the area with debris.

In Fallujah, a suicide attacker in a car struck an Iraqi army patrol in the city's busy commercial district, killing one Iraqi soldier and four civilians, according to police and hospital officials. At least 15 people were wounded in the attack.

Fallujah, a former stronghold of Iraq's Sunni insurgency, is 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Baghdad.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Sunday's attacks.

The number of American soldiers in Iraq has been reduced to below 50,000, and President Barack Obama declared an official end to U.S. combat operations in the country nearly three weeks ago.

The remaining U.S. troops primarily train and assist Iraqi security forces in hunting down suspected militants, although they have continued to battle insurgents since the official end of combat either in self-defense or at the request of the Iraqi government.

Last week, insurgents struck a military command center in central Baghdad, killing 12 people and drawing U.S. forces into a firefight.

Earlier Sunday, a roadside bomb killed two people in a minibus in the Shula neighborhood of northwestern Baghdad, police and hospital officials said.

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Associated Press writers Sinan Salaheddin, Qassim Abdul-Zahra, Hamid Ahmed and AP Photographers Hadi Mizban and Karim Kadim contributed to this report.