Four car bomb explosions shook parts of Iraq Friday, killing at least 26 people.
Workers swept away shards of glass and other rubble after a car bomb tore through a flea market selling birds and animals in a Shi'ite district of Baghdad. Another car-bomb blast hit the capital while two other attacks occurred in the Shi'ite town of Hilla.
It was the fourth time in under three weeks that devastating explosions have hit Shi'ite or pro-government targets in the country.
The bombings come as sectarian tensions escalate between the Sunni opposition and Shi'ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
In the northern city of Mosul, thousands of Sunni demonstrators chanted slogans against the government, as religious leaders called on Mr. Maliki to meet their demands.
One Sunni sheikh who addressed the crowd said Sunnis have their rights and that the government must release prisoners he says were arrested "arbitrarily." He also demanded that parliament be dissolved and that an anti-Ba'ath party law be repealed.
2013 Attacks in Iraq (click on red circles for details)
Tensions in Iraq are on the rise, in part, due to provincial elections, which are set to take place in April. Many Sunni leaders complain that Mr. Maliki is "behaving like a dictator" and "refusing to share power."
Weeks of anti-government protests and demonstrations have taken place in the mostly Sunni towns of Fallujah, Ramadi, Samarra, Mosul and Baquba.
Middle East analyst James Denselow of King's College London said that he sees several major catalysts to the recent upsurge in sectarian violence in Iraq.
"First point is the general lack of reconciliation and sectarian harmony in Iraq that leads to a perpetual conflict along sectarian lines, and outbreaks of violence across the country at various times of the year," he said.
"The second issue is the Arab Spring arriving in Iraq somewhat late, in its own way, characterized by these huge protests in the west of the country," he added. "And then, the third point is the Syria conflict and what (former U.N. chief) Kofi Annan said last year, that Syria, unlike Libya, would not implode but would rather explode and have regional consequences."
Violence has fallen from the height of strife that killed tens of thousands in 2006-2007, but insurgents have continued to carry out at least one high-casualty attack a month since the U.S. withdrawal in December 2011.