[h=1]Baghdad car bomb attack rips through Iraq's already failing hopes[/h]Soon after the pullout of US troops, an atrocity that has killed scores of people leaves an unravelling nation in deeper despair Martin Chulov guardian.co.uk, Thursday 22 December 2011 22.50 GMT Smoke rises from the site of a car bomb attack in central Baghdad, the worst violence seen in Iraq in months. Photograph: Mohammed Ameen/REUTERS In the wake of the pullout of American troops, Iraq had been braced for a new atrocity. It arrived on Thursday with devastating familiarity. Just before 9am, a first bomb thundered across Baghdad. Less than 30 minutes later, 16 explosions had ravaged the city, toppling buildings, slaughtering civilians and leaving a toll of dead and wounded by shattering a calm that had lasted a mere week since the US army left. By the end of the day, at least 72 people had been killed and at least 217 had been injured. It was the second worst daily toll of the year, which once again underscored the capacity of militants to co-ordinate extravagant attacks at will. Perhaps worse than the death count was the effect that the attacks may have on a country that many, both inside and outside of Iraq, believe is fast unravelling. The blasts took place against the backdrop of a political crisis that led to the Shia-dominated government of the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, this week accusing the country's Sunni vice-president, Tariq al-Hashimi, of terrorism. Sunni ministers have pledged to boycott cabinet meetings in retaliation and several Sunni provinces have made a claim for autonomy in an attempt to claw back lost political power. Al-Qaida-inspired insurgent groups were quickly blamed for the blasts, which struck mainly in Shia and mixed areas. Dr Lubna Naji was preparing to leave for work from her home in the east of the city when the first explosion crackled nearby. A bomb-laden car had been driven to the front of the public integrity commission building, killing 23 people. She rushed to the Baghdad trauma centre, where dead and wounded were arriving. "By then there were multiple noises all across the city," she said. "There were amputated limbs, shocked patients, severe internal injuries and general chaos. Everybody tried to help out." Plumes of filthy brown smoke were soon dotting the skyline. Car bombs accounted for at least seven of the blasts. Apart from the commission, no key government facilities were targeted. Unlike recent strikes against Shia pilgrims, security force members and construction workers paid the heaviest price. The bombers were able to reach all corners of the city, bypassing a network of concrete checkpoints manned by war-weary police holding bomb detectors that were once again found wanting. "It's become a distinguishing feature of Baghdad," said Naji. "In Paris they have the Eiffel tower, in London they have Big Ben. And all that we have in Baghdad are our car bombs. "We have never been in a situation when we are going in the right direction." The British-made bomb detectors used by Iraq's security forces were the constant subject of ridicule from the US military, which insisted they were based on junk science that could not detect explosives. Yet they continue to be deployed in a fight Iraq shows little sign of winning. "I can't even look at them when I drive past a checkpoint," said Ahmed Majid of the small devices that look like a water diviner. "It makes me so angry to see them and what they are doing to this country." Maliki said the attacks aimed to send a political message. "The timing of these crimes and their locations confirm once again to any doubters the political nature of the goals that those criminals want to achieve," he said. "The criminals and those who stand behind them will not succeed in changing events or the political process, or in escaping punishment." Maliki on Thursday met the US army chief of staff, General Ray Odierno, having previously talked to the CIA chief, David Petraeus, both of whom had travelled to Iraq as the political standoff with the country's Sunni power base escalated. Both were former commanding generals in Iraq and had claimed that al-Qaida had been strategically defeated during their tenures. While Sunni insurgents can no longer control towns and cities in Iraq, they can still mount regular high-profile attacks, a reality that is shaping Maliki's hardening sectarian position. "He will use this to say 'look, you can't trust the Sunnis'," said Munther al-Samarrie, from west Baghdad. "It plays directly into his hands." By nightfall, Baghdad's trauma centre was still overrun with patients and Naji was returning for a second shift. "I still feel numb and empty," she said. "Such attacks used to make me feel so angry and frustrated, but now I just feel empty. "Everyone is to blame when it comes to Iraq. Everyone has harmed this country really bad. The occupation made a mess, and as for our politicians, we know how they are, they just don't stop getting it wrong. And don't forget the Iraqi people themselves. They ate the bait, they fell into the trap. "I just want a normal life, with safety, security, dignity and honour. I just want to survive."