BAGHDAD — More than 60 Iraqi civilians were killed and scores more wounded Sunday in a spate of ferocious bomb and gun attacks targeting mostly Shiite areas of the capital, ending days of relative calm since the start of the latest U.S.-Iraqi effort to quell violence and restore order.
Two U.S. troops were also reported killed Sunday in weekend fighting around Baghdad.
At the same time, Iraqi officials say the Baghdad security plan has significantly lowered the number of death-squad killings attributed primarily to Shiite Muslim militias around the capital.
The number of bodies found with bullet holes and dumped in desolate lots or waterways has continued a weeks-long decline, plummeting from peaks of 60 or 70 per day in December to a daily average of 13 in the last week, according to unofficial hospital and police reports.
Three such bodies were discovered in Baghdad on Sunday, an Interior Ministry official said.
Sunni insurgents, Shiite militias, criminal gangs and foreign extremists all take part in the violence in Iraq. The decline in death-squad killings suggests that the Baghdad security plan, which includes a major political component, has tripped up or partly neutralized organized Shiite militias while it has failed to halt Sunni Muslim extremists targeting Shiite civilians with suicide bombings.
"The reason behind the decline is the security plan and the fleeing of militants to other places," said one ranking east Baghdad police official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of policies that bar law enforcement officials from speaking to the media without authorization. "Even those who've remained don't feel free to move these days. We don't see armed groups these days."
U.S. fighter jets screeched above the capital as Operation Law and Order, as it is being called by Iraqi and American officials, continued for a sixth day.
Beginning Tuesday night, U.S. and Iraqi forces set up aggressive checkpoints in search of weapons and ringleaders of sectarian gangs.
While the security plan has gotten underway, U.S. officials have urged patience.
They say it will take months before all the additional 17,500 American troops destined for Baghdad arrive and begin to make a lasting difference on the streets. Beyond the capital, 4,000 other new U.S. troops will be deploying to Iraq.
In Sunday's most deadly attacks, two car bombs exploded almost simultaneously outside busy main-street marketplaces in the Shiite-dominated New Baghdad district, killing 56 Iraqis and injuring 130. The blasts set fire to shops and cars.
Panicked survivors and passersby pushed the wounded into civilian cars and rushed them to two hospitals. A plume of thick black smoke arose as firefighters battled the flames for hours.
The lower-middle-class district of modest single-family homes populated by Shiites, Sunnis and Christians has been a frequent target of bombings.
"We were happy to see the American and Iraqi troops to protect us," said Kamal Rasheed, a 28-year-old owner of a cellphone shop 200 yards from one of the explosions. "This morning, the troops were checking and searching. I am astonished at how such a violation took place."
One witness said civilians in the neighborhood had apparently been lulled into a false sense of security.
"People didn't care much about safety precautions because of the new security plan," said Mohsen Musa, a 35-year-old bus driver.
Two other bombings targeted a restaurant and a police checkpoint in eastern Baghdad, killing two Iraqis and injuring 12 more. Gunmen in a Sunni neighborhood in central Baghdad and two districts south of the capital killed six civilians in drive-by shootings.
On Saturday, one U.S. soldier was killed in a grenade attack during a combat patrol in a northern Baghdad neighborhood, the military said, and another was killed by gunfire during a foot patrol north of the capital. The deaths brought to 3,135 the U.S. military toll since the March 2003 invasion, according to icasualties.org.
While Sunni attacks on civilian Shiites apparently continued Sunday, Shiite militia violence against Sunnis appears to be down, at least for now.
The death-squad killings began in the capital in 2005 as the Shiite-dominated government began allowing Shiite militia members to join the police force.
Authorities each day discovered dozens of victims, often bound and tortured before they were shot to death.
The killings intensified in 2006 when radical Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr's loyalists and militiamen began more actively participating in the security forces.
Victims' families described early morning visits to their homes by men in police uniforms and vehicles who handcuffed and took away their loved ones, never to be seen alive again.
U.S. officials say the heavy troop presence under the new crackdown has discouraged some violent groups from operating with impunity.