A car packed with explosives and a roadside bomb went off back-to-back outside a municipal building north of Baghdad on Tuesday, killing 37 people and wounding 54, Iraqi police and a hospital doctor said.
The twin blast in Taji, a Sunni-dominated town about 12 miles (20 kilometers) from the Iraqi capital, were the latest in a series of attacks across Iraq. They came at a time of public debate over whether to ask the United States to keep some American troops here past their year-end withdrawal deadline from the country.
"It was awful ... some of the lightly wounded people were running in all directions, either crying or screaming for help," a policeman who identified himself only by his nickname, Abu Haider, said at the scene. He said he was not authorized to give his full name.
Burned bodies were lying on the ground and about 20 cars were on fire, witnesses said.
The assailants first detonated the car bomb around noon in the parking lot of Taji's local council building, police said. When civilians and security forces rushed to the scene to help the victims, the second bomb was detonated.
The Iraqi army later sealed off the area, and at one point four ambulances were seen waiting for permission to evacuate the wounded.
A doctor at Kazimiyah Hospital outside Baghdad who saw the bodies confirmed the casualty figures. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.
Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, a spokesman for Baghdad's military operations command, gave a lower count, saying 27 were killed and 50 wounded.
Conflicting reports on casualties are common in the immediate aftermath of big attacks in Iraq.
Vice President President Tariq al-Hashemi, a Sunni politician, demanded that Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki quickly appoint defense and interior ministers to help deal with growing chaos among the security forces. The two senior posts have been vacant for more than six months as government officials squabble over which parties should hold them. "The security system needs to be or fixed as soon as possible," al-Hashemi said.
Parliament Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi, another Sunni, lashed out security forces, saying they are not doing enough to foil such attacks.
While violence in Iraq is less intense now than during Shiite-Sunni sectarian fighting in 2006 and 2007, militants have again stepped up deadly attacks. That has prompted concerns about what will happen when the 47,000 remaining U.S. troops pull out.
Tuesday's attack bore the hallmarks of al-Qaida. Similar strikes carried out by the insurgent group in recent months have killed scores at provincial government headquarters across the country, including in Baqouba, Diwaniyah, Kirkuk and in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit.
On June 23, bombs ripped through Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad and killing at least 40 people.
Late Monday, a rocket attack on Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone killed three women and two children, and wounded 10 people. Officials said militants fired a Katyusha rocket as Americans were celebrating Fourth of July at the U.S. Embassy, which is inside the Green Zone.
The rocket hit a residential complex for laborers working at a hotel and sparked a fire. The sprawling Green Zone houses the Iraqi government headquarters and the U.S. and British embassies. It's a favorite target for insurgents' mortar and Katyusha attacks.
Associated Press writers Hamid Ahmed and Lara Jakes in Baghdad and Sameer N. Yacoub in Amman, Jordan, contributed reporting.