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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

65 Killed, 138 Wounded in Baghdad

BAGHDAD -- An explosion struck university students boarding minivans after classes in a predominantly Shiite area of Baghdad on Tuesday, killing at least 65 people and wounding 138, officials said in the worst attack to strike Iraq this year.

The bombing was one of a series of attacks against Shiite targets in Baghdad on a day in which the United Nations said 34,452 Iraqi civilians had been killed in sectarian violence in 2006, nearly three times the number reported dead by the Iraqi government.

The surge in violence came as the Iraqi government prepares to launch a massive security operation to pacify the capital with the aid of U.S. forces -- the third such attempt since the Shiite-led government took power in May.

The bombing struck the university students in eastern Baghdad as they were boarding minivans to go home after classes.

There were conflicting reports about what caused the blast, with some police saying it was a suicide car bomber and others saying two of the minivans exploded as students were getting on.

About 45 minutes later, gunmen in a minivan and on two motorcycles opened fire on an outdoor market in a mainly Shiite neighborhood in nearby section of eastern Baghdad, killing 11 people and wounding five, police said.

Two back-to-back explosions also struck a used-motorcycle marketplace near a Sunni mosque in central Baghdad, killing at least 15 people and wounding 74. The attack appeared to target the mainly Shiite neighborhood near the market but was also near the Sheik al-Gailani shrine, one of the holiest Sunni locations in the capital.

Raad Abbas, a 26-year-old who received shrapnel wounds in the attack at the motorcycle market, said he went to the market because the city had been quieter over the past two weeks.

"Shortly after midday, I heard an explosion. Motorcycles were flying in the air, people were falling dead and wounded," he said from his hospital bed. Nearly 80 people were reported killed or found dead nationwide Tuesday.

Baghdad is bracing for a security operation by the Iraqi government and U.S. forces aimed at quelling the rampant sectarian violence that has been on the rise since the Feb. 22 bombing of a Shiite mosque in Samarra.

Gianni Magazzeni, the chief of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq in Baghdad, said 34,452 civilians were killed and 36,685 were wounded last year.

The Iraqi Health Ministry did not comment on the UN report, which was based on information released by the Iraqi government and hospitals. The government has disputed previous figures released by the UN as "inaccurate and exaggerated."

Iraqi government figures announced in early January put last year's civilian death toll at 12,357. When asked about the difference, Magazzeni said the UN figures were compiled from information obtained through the Iraqi Health Ministry, hospitals across the country and the Medico-Legal Institute in Baghdad.

"Without significant progress in the rule of law sectarian violence will continue indefinitely and eventually spiral out of control," he warned.

The UN report also said that 30,842 people were detained in the country as of Dec. 31, including 14,534 in detention facilities run by U.S.-led multinational forces.