BAGHDAD -- As workers gathered for breakfast on Thursday at a restaurant in Hilla, a Shiite-dominated city south of the capital, an explosives-laden car parked outside blew up, sending shrapnel ripping through the crowd. As an ambulance raced to the scene, another car was in pursuit, driven by a suicide bomber -- who detonated his payload just as the first responders gathered.
The bombings in Hilla, in which security and hospital officials said 32 people were killed and 138 were wounded, were the worst in a day of insurgent attacks across Iraq. Other attacks in Karbala, a Shiite holy city in the south, Falluja, Mosul and Baghdad left 16 people dead and about 70 wounded.
Security was tightened in Baghdad with new checkpoints set up before the Muslim weekend, starting Friday.
As devastating as the attacks were, they were not out of the ordinary. Nearly 10 years after the American invasion, and almost a year since the departure of the American military, assassinations, roadside bombs and suicide attacks are almost daily occurrences. Each time a period of calm sets in, it is shattered by more violence.
Just this week, Iraqis were cautiously hopeful about security because last weekend an estimated two million Shiite pilgrims descended on Karbala to commemorate Ashura, one of the holiest periods on the Shiite calendar that marks the martyrdom of a revered imam, and for the first time in years they were not targeted by insurgents.
"Whenever we feel that security is getting better, there comes a shock and any stability is gone," said a taxi driver in Hilla, who declined to give his name. "These attacks will never end. The heart of Iraq must keep bleeding."
Mushrik Kareem, an 18-year-old college student, was near the restaurant in Hilla with a friend when the attack occurred. He was hit with shrapnel and lost consciousness, but he survived. His friend, however, was killed. "When I woke up in the hospital, they told me: 'Sorry, but you lost your friend. His head was blown off his body.' I can't believe it, and I never will," he said.
Hassan Kamoona, a member of the provincial council in Hilla, said the authorities had received intelligence that indicated that an attack was coming and blamed the local security forces for not taking extra precautions to prevent the bombing.
Elsewhere, a car bomb exploded near a checkpoint on the outskirts of Karbala, killing eight people. In Baghdad, two car bombs -- one struck an army checkpoint and the other a small market -- killed two soldiers and one civilian. In Falluja, a suicide bomber struck a checkpoint and killed three soldiers, while in Mosul two police officers were killed by a car bomb.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.