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Two bombs struck a bustling shopping district in the heart of Baghdad on Thursday evening, turning display windows and cabinets and glass shelves into deadly shrapnel and killing 54 people and wounding 123 more, the Iraqi authorities said.

The attack, in the Karrada neighborhood, was the worst in the capital since early February, when bombings killed almost 100 people at two Baghdad pet markets, and it reinforced fears that insurgents can still carry out devastating attacks in well-guarded areas. While violence has fallen sharply from last year, bomb attacks in Baghdad have risen in recent weeks.

There were no immediate claims of responsibility. But the attackers used an old tactic to maximize casualties: detonating one bomb and then setting off a second blast to kill passers-by and emergency services workers who rush to the scene to aid the victims.

A shoe salesman who would identify himself only by his first name, Hatam, said the first bomb slammed him to the ground. He got up, looked behind him, and rushed to aid a woman whose leg had been ripped off by the blast.

“We managed to drag her away from the spot, and then the police came really quickly, and they were shouting at the people to move back because there might be another explosion,” he said. “But the people didn’t listen, and even some of the policemen who were already there didn’t pay attention, and that is when the second explosion happened.”

This time, Hatam said, he walked away. “I couldn’t go back again,” he said. “The scene was so horrible, and I lost the energy to see dead people.”

The explosions sprayed chunks of human flesh for 50 yards. The second bomb, about 10 minutes after the first, killed more people. A number of Iraqi soldiers and police officers who rushed in after the first attack were among the dead and wounded.

Some witnesses said the first bomb was hidden in a trash can. The second explosion may have been from a vest worn by a suicide bomber, the U.S. military said.

One witness said a man on a motorcycle carried the bomb into the crowd. But other witnesses interviewed later said the second bomb had been planted there previously.

In the chaos that followed the attacks, Iraqi security forces fired Kalashnikov rifles in the air to warn people away. But many people pushed forward anyway to search for family members feared dead.

The attack “was like an electric shock, it happened so suddenly nobody could avoid it,” said Abu Abdullah, who operates a kebab stand near the scene. “Some people were burning, and I saw some without legs.”

Insurgents struck in the north this week, Iraqi authorities in Mosul said Thursday, attacking guards at Badoosh Prison, killing one guard and wounding another with an improvised bomb as they patrolled nearby. The bodies of four more guards who had been kidnapped the previous day were found Thursday.