Hillah, Iraq Sunni insurgents hit two Shiite towns in two days with brutal bombings that killed more than 110 people, apparently aiming to scare Shiites away from a crucial vote on Iraq's new constitution. In the latest attack, a car bomb ripped through a fruit and vegetable market crowded with Friday morning shoppers.
Destroyed stalls lay in pools of blood in the al-Sharia market in the southern city of Hillah, in Iraq's Shiite heartland. The scenes mirrored the devastation in Balad, the Shiite town in the middle of a Sunni region north of Baghdad hit by a triple suicide bombing Thursday, a far more lethal attack.
Unidentified bodies in bags or under pieces of cardboard lay on the ground in a Balad hospital courtyard Friday. Weeping women went from body to body searching for loved ones. The blasts reduced nearly an entire block in the market district to a giant mound of twisted metal and bricks strewn with bananas, tomatoes and other produce.
"Why does such a thing happen to us? We ask the government and Arab countries to help us," cried Mohammed Mahdi Jassim, a Balad resident.
Both attacks seemed staged to kill or maim as many civilians as possible, tearing through busy markets and commercial streets. At least 10 people were killed in Hillah and 102 in Balad. At least 22 of those killed both days were women and children.
Insurgents have vowed to derail the Oct. 15 referendum, opposed by Iraq's Sunni Arab minority, and the recent surge of violence has killed at least 200 people - including 13 U.S. service members - in the past five days.
The Sunni-led al-Qaida in Iraq, the most feared insurgent group, has declared "all-out war" on Shiites, and since a Shiite-majority government took power April 28, suicide bombers have killed at least 1,345 people, according to an Associated Press count.
Intimidating Shiites from voting in the referendum could boost Sunni attempts to reject the charter, and the tactic was having an affect among some in Balad and surrounding Shiite towns.
Mohammed Kadhim, 25, a Shiite shopkeeper in the town of Dujail said he would not allow his family to vote. "I'm responsible for their safety after what happened in Balad and what is happening in the whole country with the occupation forces and the government."
Hussein Ali, a 67-year-old Shiite in Balad, also said he would stay away from the polls. "I will not take part in this game that kills Iraqis," he said.
The sharpening Sunni-Shiite divide is a blow to hopes that the constitution would unite Iraqis and bring stability, allowing the U.S. military to begin pulling out troops. Withdrawals projected for next spring may have to be pushed back.
The constitution "didn't come out as the national compact that we thought it was going to be," the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, told a Pentagon news conference Friday. "And that caused the situation to change a little bit." He said he still believed some troop reductions were possible in 2006.
Iraqi and U.S. forces were gearing up for more mayhem, increasing the number of checkpoints around Baghdad. Iraqi security forces have intelligence that 33 car bombs are ready and located somewhere in the capital, said Maj. Abdul-Karim al-Mohammedawi, of Iraq's Interior Ministry.
Iraqi troops at a checkpoint Friday captured a woman strapped with explosives under her clothes who was headed for a flea market to carry out a suicide bombing, said army Gen. Jalil Khalaf.
The discovery came after Iraq's first known female suicide bomber killed six people in a northern city on Wednesday, raising fears of a new insurgent strategy aimed at eluding checkpoints, where women often aren't stopped because of Islamic sensitivities over modesty.
In Friday's Hillah attack, a car parked in the market exploded about 9:30 a.m. as people shopped on their day off before going to weekly Islamic prayers. At least 10 people, including three women and two children, were killed and 41 wounded, said Dr. Mohammed Beirum, of Hillah General Hospital.