BAGHDAD - A series of apparently coordinated car bombs targeting police across Iraq on Wednesday killed 46 people, including women and children, one day after the US military confirmed a major troop reduction.
The trail of bloodshed started in the capital Baghdad before stretching to the north and south of the country, hitting a total of seven cities and towns in quick succession in tactics that bore the hallmark of Al-Qaeda.
In the worst attack, a car bomb at a passport office in Kut, 160 kilometres (100 miles) southeast of Baghdad, killed 20 people, including 15 police, and wounded 90 people, most of them police, Lieutenant Ali Hussein told AFP.
In Baghdad, a suicide car bomber blew up his vehicle at a police station in the northeastern suburb of Qahira, killing 15 people and wounding dozens of others, security and medical officials said.
The attack in the mixed Sunni-Shiite neighbourhood took place at around 8 am (0500 GMT), according to an interior ministry official who gave the toll. "The victims include policemen and civilians," he said.
A doctor at Medical City Hospital said they had received the bodies of two women, two children and two police officers, and that 44 other people were receiving treatment.
A series of car bomb attacks in five other towns and cities raised the nationwide toll to 46, and almost 250 wounded.
A spike in unrest over the past two months has triggered concern that Iraqi forces are not yet ready to handle security on their own, and with no new government formed in Baghdad since a March 7 general election.
The US army announced on Tuesday that troop levels were below 50,000 in line with President Barack Obama's directives as part of a "responsible drawdown" of troops, seven years on from the invasion which ousted Saddam Hussein.
The reduction has raised fears that Al-Qaeda linked insurgents will step up their attacks.
A separate car bomb in Baghdad killed two police and wounded seven civilians in the centre of the city, while two other policemen were shot dead in Al-Amel, a southern district, the interior ministry official said.
In the north of the country, a car bomb in the ethnically-divided, oil-rich city of Kirkuk killed one person and wounded 11 others, said Colonel Adel Zain al-Abideen, the city's acting chief of police.
And in Ramadi, the provincial capital of Anbar province to the west of the Iraqi capital, three people, two of them police, were killed and 16 wounded in two car bombs, one of them at a police checkpoint, a security official said.
The police and army are often the target of attack by armed groups in Iraq.
America now has 49,700 troops in the country -- less than a third of the peak figure of around 170,000 during the US military "surge" of 2007, during a brutal Shiite-Sunni sectarian war that cost thousands of lives.
Washington is just days away from formally declaring its combat mission over at the end of the month.
Tens of thousands of US soldiers have been withdrawn in recent months and the last American unit designated as a "combat brigade" left Iraq and crossed into neighbouring Kuwait on August 19.
The remaining troops will be deployed on an "advise and assist" mission until all US forces leave the country at the end of 2011.
July was the bloodiest month in Iraq since May 2008, according to government officials, who said 535 people were killed. US military officials disputed the statistics.
Wednesday's bloodshed saw another car bomb in Muqdadiyah, a town 90 kilometres northeast of Baghdad, kill three people and wound 18, many of them police, said a security official in the provincial capital Baquba.
In the southern city of Basra, 12 people, including four police, were wounded by a parked car bomb near a police station, a security official said.
And in Karbala, a holy Shiite city south of Baghdad, 29 people, including policemen, were wounded by a car bomb that targeted a police station, a local security official said.