BAGHDAD — A car exploded outside a southern Iraqi marketplace on Wednesday, killing at least eight people and wounding 28 in the latest deadly attack in the nation's spiraling cycle of violence.
The strike in the Shiite town of Zubaidiyah brought the day's death toll to 11 before noon.
Police said the car was parked at a market in Zubaidiyah, located about 70 kilometers (45 miles) south of Baghdad. At least one child and two women were among the dead, local police and health officials said.
Resident Hussein Jassim said the bomb struck a usually placid town, leaving bodies littered on the ground and cars and trucks in flames.
"Everybody rushed to the explosion site and we saw horrible scenes that we, unlike other Iraqis, are not used to," said Jassim, a teacher who was in his house when he heard the bombing. "Nobody in the town expected this because we thought we had been spared the violence hitting the country. But it seems our turn has come at last."
"The peaceful people of this town are afraid now that more attacks are to come," Jassim said.
The 10 a.m. blast that was eerily similar to two market bombings in southern Iraq on Tuesday, a day that saw at least 40 people killed and scores more wounded in attacks across the country.
The onslaught began just ahead of a religious pilgrimage this week that could attract even more violence.
Security forces have struggled to contain a surge in attacks over the past month, which has damaged the government's shaky credibility among Iraqis and stoked fears the country could slip into chaos without the help of American troops that withdrew last December.
The spike is blamed partially on Iraq's paralyzing political crisis, which pits Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Shiite-led government against rival Shiite politicians, Sunni Muslims and ethnic Kurds who complain they've been sidelined from power. Also, escalating fighting in neighboring Syria may have allowed Iraqi insurgents to grab hold of weapons in circulation as order breaks down.
Shiite pilgrims, security forces and government officials are three prime targets of the Sunni-based insurgency that is linked to al-Qaida. Many believe the insurgency seeks to exploit ethnic and sectarian tensions in hopes of dragging the country back to the brink of civil war.
In Baghdad, a string of morning drive-by shootings targeting security forces and government officials left three more Iraqis dead. In all three attacks – which targeted two police officers and a parliament employee – gunmen used silenced pistols and fled before they could be captured.
It is unclear if the shootings were related, although the attacks unfolded over 90 minutes in Sunni and Shiite neighborhoods on opposite sides of the capital.
All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.
Associated Press Writer Sameer N. Yacoub contributed to this report.