BAGHDAD -- Five car bombs exploded Monday in predominantly Shiite cities and districts in central and southern Iraq, killing 26 civilians and wounding dozens, officials said.
The blasts come amid a week-long spike in sectarian violence following clashes at a Sunni protest camp in the north of the country. No one has claimed responsibility, but coordinated bombings in civilian areas are a favorite strategy used by al-Qaida in Iraq.
Two parked car bombs went off simultaneously Monday morning in the city of Amarah near a gathering of construction workers and a market, killing 13 civilians and wounding 42, according to police.
Another police officer said a parked car bomb exploded near a restaurant in the city of Diwaniyah, killing eight civilians and wounding 25 others. At least three cars were seen charred and twisted outside a two-story building with a blast-damaged facade. Shop owners and cleaners were brushing debris off the bloodstained pavement.
Amarah, some 320 kilometers (200 miles) southeast of Baghdad and Diwaniyah, 30 kilometers (80 miles) south of the capital, are heavily Shiite and normally comparatively peaceful.
Hours later, another parked car bomb went off in the Shiite city of Karbala, killing two civilians and wounding 12 others, police said. Two early Islamic figures revered by Shiites are buried in the city, about 90 kilometers (55 miles) south of Baghdad.
A parked car bomb ripped through a Shiite neighborhood in the otherwise predominantly Sunni town of Mahmoudiya, about 20 miles (30 kilometers) south of Baghdad, killing three and wounding 16, another police said.
Four medical officials confirmed the casualty figures. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release information.
Sectarian violence has spiked since Tuesday, when security forces tried to make arrests at a Sunni Muslim protest camp in the northern city of Hawija. The move set off a clash that killed 23 people, including three soldiers.
The Hawija incident and a spate of follow-up battles between gunmen and security forces as well as other attacks, including Monday's, have left around 200 dead in the last week.