BAGHDAD, Iraq - Car bombs echo across Baghdad and a constellation of cities around Iraq nearly every day, inflicting slaughter and billowing oily smoke, a reminder to all who see or hear them that the country's insurgents can strike almost anywhere.
Vehicles packed with explosives, often detonated by suicide attackers, have become one of the insurgency's most lethal weapons. An Associated Press tally shows there have been at least 181 of them since Iraq's interim government took over June 28 - just a handful at first but surging to a rate of one or more a day in recent months.
Those bombs killed about 1,000 people, both Iraqis and Americans, and wounded twice as many. The tally found that 68 bombings were suicide attacks and the rest were detonated by other means. Most involved cars, but some used trucks and even motorcycles.
Less common before June, car bombs have become part of a punishing psychological campaign that has made almost everyone here feel unsafe. They have been used to assassinate Iraqi leaders, attack troop and police convoys, penetrate U.S. armored vehicles being rushed to the country and, seemingly, simply to spread terror.
While American officials say roadside bombs, known as improvised explosive devices, are still the insurgents' most favored weapon, car bombs are often more powerful and usually exact a higher toll. The spike in recent months supports Defense Department statements that guerrillas are using more lethal explosives to target U.S. troops and intimidate Iraqis ahead of Jan. 30 elections.
"The insurgents have modified their tactics to address modifications the U.S. has made to protect its forces," said David L. Phillips, a former State Department expert on Iraq who is now with the Council on Foreign Relations. "Because there's been a big push to get armored vehicles, hard-shelled vehicles on the road, and they are less susceptible to IEDs, whereas a car bomb still has greater payload."
The bombing total was compiled from AP's daily reports, based on government and police statements as well as information gathered by AP staff. No official statistics on such attacks have been publicly released and the number of incidents is almost certainly higher than reported.
The U.S. military and the Iraqi government were asked for their figures but provided none.