BAGHDAD, Iraq - The explosions yesterday came not long after dawn, just hours after a triple bombing had torn through the Shula neighborhood at dusk the previous evening.
This time, the target was Karada, a middle-class district lately busy with shoppers, tea-shop denizens and others hopeful that a breath of normality might be returning to this battered capital.
But conflict here has a way of dashing hopes.
Four apparently synchronized car bombs tore through Karada early yesterday, targeting a pair of mosques, a popular bathhouse and a commercial street - and leaving residents disbelieving of the carnage and destruction. A fifth bomb, 200 pounds of explosives rigged with a timing device inside a van, was disarmed.
"It seems that we are reaching a point of no return," said an exasperated Abed Qadeer, a Karada architect.
In the chaotic aftermath of the morning's bombings, much of central Baghdad was gridlocked and more menacing than usual. Ski-masked Iraqi commandos riding in pickups and waving Kalashnikovs shut down streets and rerouted motorists.
By noon, U.S. tanks were rolling through the streets.
The unrelenting violence of the Iraq spring soon obscured the memories of defiant Iraqis displaying their ink-stained fingers after casting ballots. Just a few days ago, however, U.S. and Iraqi officials were declaring Baghdad a success story, a place where a sweep known as Operation Lightning had depleted the ranks of car bombers.
Many blasts late Wednesday and early yesterday seemed to have been remotely detonated, perhaps backing U.S. assertions that the supply of suicide bombers may be dwindling.
Still, with so many unfulfilled predictions of imminent triumph littering the Iraqi conflict, cautious commanders in recent days have stopped short of declaring victory.
"I would say we have been relatively successful in reducing the violence in Baghdad," Maj. Gen. William G. Webster, whose forces patrol the city and environs, said before the latest spasm of attacks. "I believe that ... saying anything about 'breaking the back,' or 'about to reach the end of the line' or those kinds of things do not apply to the insurgency at this point."
The bombings of the past two days represent some of the most violent and well-planned attacks to date in the capital.
At least 15 people were killed and 50 injured in the four Karada blasts. The dead include at least three police officers. The three bombs in the Shula district late Wednesday took at least 18 lives. Both neighborhoods are largely home to Shiite Muslims, and blame immediately was aimed at Sunni Arab insurgents intent on toppling the Shiite-led government and ousting U.S. troops.
But such neat sectarian explanations failed to satisfy many still befuddled at how their nation has gone so astray.
"This is no longer a place where people can live," lamented Khilood Mohammed, a mother of three whose neighborhood has been the scene of intense clashes. "No light of hope can be seen on the horizon."
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.