Car bombs echo across Baghdad and a constellation of cities around Iraq nearly every day, inflicting slaughter and billowing oily smoke, a reminder to all who see or hear them that the country's insurgents can strike almost anywhere.
Vehicles packed with explosives, often detonated by suicide attackers, have become one of the insurgency's most lethal weapons. An Associated Press tally shows there have been at least 181 of them since Iraq's interim government took over June 28 _ just a handful at first but surging to one or more a day in recent months.
Those bombs killed about 1,000 people, both Iraqis and Americans, and wounded twice as many. The tally found that 68 bombings were suicide attacks and the rest were detonated by other means. Most involved cars, but some used trucks and even motorcycles.
Less common before June, car bombs have become part of a punishing psychological campaign that has made almost everyone here feel unsafe. They have been used to assassinate Iraqi leaders, attack troop and police convoys, penetrate U.S. armored vehicles being rushed to the country and, seemingly, simply to spread terror.
While American officials say roadside bombs, known as improvised explosive devices, are still the insurgents' favored weapon, car bombs usually exact a higher toll. The spike in recent months supports Defense Department statements that guerrillas are using more lethal explosives to target U.S. troops and intimidate Iraqis ahead of Jan. 30 elections.
The bombing total was compiled from AP's daily reports, based on government and police statements as well as information gathered by AP staff. No official statistics on such attacks have been released and the number of incidents is almost certainly higher.
The U.S. military and the Iraqi government were asked for their figures but provided none.
According to the AP tally, there were two car bombs on the last day of June, 11 in July and 12 in August. The numbers surged in the following months, with 26 in September, 43 in October and 48 in November _ eight of them on a single day, Nov. 6. December saw 27 and January is averaging about one a day _ a dozen in the first 11 days.
The worst car bombings are horrifying: 70 killed, 56 wounded in a July 28 explosion next to a line of police applicants; 42 dead, 35 of them children, in a Sept. 30 blast as U.S. troops handed out sweets in western Baghdad; 54 killed in a Dec. 19 explosion amid a funeral procession in Najaf.
As the bombings have progressed, more have involved suicide bombers, with almost all this month being suicide attacks.
That points to an increased involvement of foreign Islamic radicals in Iraq's insurgency, experts and Iraqi officials say.
Iraqi and American soldiers have developed a routine for potential car bombs, referred to in the military as VBIEDs, for vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices. When a car approaches a patrol or checkpoint without slowing down, a soldier fires a flare. If that doesn't stop the driver, soldiers shoot at the car's engine, and if that fails, fire at the driver. If it keeps coming, many hit the ground, and pray.
The vehicle bombs have given the insurgents a potent weapon against the world's most technologically advanced military.
"Tactically, they don know how to organize, they don't know how to launch a coordinated attack at all in terms of command or leadership," said Capt. Eric Wolf, 38, with the Marine Corps Center for Lessons Learned, at Camp Fallujah. "But we certainly have respect for their ability to make bombs."
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_ ASSOCIATED PRESS