BAGHDAD-- A string of explosions hit a Baghdad market and the capital's western outskirts on Saturday, killing at least 15 people and exposing the challenges still facing Iraqi security forces just over a month before all American troops leave the country.
The bombings mark the second major attack against Iraqi civilians this week and come as American forces are packing up to leave and handing over their remaining security responsibilities to Iraqi forces. Many Iraqis are concerned that insurgents may use the transition period to launch more attacks in a bid to regain their former prominence and destabilize the country.
Iraqi security officials maintain that they are fully prepared for the American withdrawal, which is required under a 2008 security pact between the U.S. and Iraq. About 15,000 U.S. troops remain in the country, down from a one-time high of about 170,000.
Earlier this week, the top U.S. general in Iraq, Lloyd Austin, said that there would likely be some "turbulence" after American troops leave. But he did not think there would be a wholesale descent into violence.
The first blasts Saturday struck an area where people looking for work were gathered in the mostly Sunni village of al-Zaidan, west of Baghdad. Seven people were killed and 11 others were wounded, police officials said.
Hours later, three bombs exploded near kiosks in a market in downtown Baghdad where vendors were selling CDs and military uniforms, killing eight people and wounding 19 others.
"I went outside my shop and saw people running in all directions ttroops prepare to leave. On Thursday evening, 19 people died in the southern city of Basra after three bombs went off in quick succession.
As the U.S. has drawn down the number of American troops in Iraq over the last year, the U.S. military has played more of an advising role to Iraqi security forces, leaving the more high-profile jobs such as patrolling and manning checkpoints to Iraqi security forces.
But U.S. troops have played a key role in helping Iraqi forces gather intelligence on suspected insurgents, something that will be lost when the American military departs.
In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Gen. Austin said that Iraqis are very good at human intelligence -- gathering information from a local population that they know well. But they lack the American technology and ability to analyze intelligence gathered from multiple sources and then use that information to combat terror networks such as Al Qaeda.
"What we've learned about Al Qaeda is they have a very sophisticated network and the ability to kind of see themselves across the country, and synchronize activities," he said. "In order to counter that I think you need the ability to put pressure on the network."