Baghdad, Iraq Car bombs targeting Shiite areas devastated a bustling outdoor market and an auto dealership Tuesday, part of a relentless onslaught that killed 54 people and prompted the United States to deploy more troops to combat insurgents in western Iraq.
The bombs also wounded 120 people, officials said. The death toll made Tuesday one of the bloodiest days in Iraq this month, and lawmakers still had not agreed on who should lead the nation's army and police forces.
Authorities also captured a suspected terrorist who allegedly confessed to beheading hundreds of people. The operation by Iraqi forces also netted documents, cell phones and computers containing information on other wanted terrorists and Islamic extremist groups.
The worst bombing hit the outdoor market as Iraqis were doing their evening shopping in Husseiniyah, about 60 miles north of Baghdad. At least 25 people were killed and 65 were wounded, Interior Ministry spokesman Lt. Col. Falah al-Mohamedawi said.
Hours earlier, a car packed with explosives blew up at a dealership in the largely Shiite city of Hillah, about 60 miles south of Baghdad, killing at least 12 people and wounding 32, Capt. Muthana Khalid said.
A bomb hidden in a plastic bag also detonated outside a bakery in a religiously mixed neighborhood in eastern Baghdad, killing at least nine people and injuring 10, al-Mohamedawi said.
As of Tuesday, at least 2,471 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
Separately, mortar rounds fired by remote control from a car hit the third floor of the heavily guarded Interior Ministry and a nearby park, killing two government employees and wounding three other people.
During May, at least 871 Iraqis have been killed, surpassing the 801 killed in April. The deadliest month this year for Iraqis was March, when 1,038 were killed and 1,155 were wounded.
The deadliest day for Iraqis this month was May 7, when at least 67 civilians were killed.
Tuesday in Iraq
In other developments Tuesday: ¢ The U.S.-led multinational force in Iraq is losing troops from two of its most important allies - Italy and South Korea - and up to a half dozen other members could draw down their forces or pull out entirely by year's end. ¢ The Sunni Arab heart of the Iraqi insurgency seems likely to hold its strength the rest of the year, and the U.S. military command in Baghdad said 1,500 more combat troops have arrived in the country from Kuwait. The need for extra troops reflects a deteriorating security situation in the volatile Anbar province. ¢ A CBS News correspondent seriously wounded by a car bomb that killed two colleagues in Iraq briefly regained consciousness during a flight to Germany, the network said.
Amid the surge in violence, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki held another day of meetings aimed at getting Iraq's ethnic, sectarian and secular factions to agree on new interior and defense ministers.
But the key security posts remained vacant 10 days after al-Maliki's national unity government took office.
The Interior Ministry, which controls the police forces, has been promised to the Shiites. Sunni Arabs are to get the defense ministry, overseeing the army. It is hoped the balance will enable al-Maliki to move ahead with a plan for Iraqis to take over all security duties over the next 18 months so U.S.-led troops can begin withdrawing.
Al-Maliki told the British Broadcasting Corp. his government had a better chance of suppressing the violence than his predecessors because it is the nation's first permanent government since Saddam Hussein fell. "Previous governments were either temporary or transitional. They did not receive full backing from the Iraqi people to deal with this issue," he told the BBC.
The military also said a roadside bomb killed a U.S. soldier Tuesday southeast of Baghdad, while small-arms fire killed an American soldier Monday in Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad.
The bodies of two Marines missing after a helicopter crash in western Iraq over the weekend also were recovered.