Dozens of people have been killed and scores more injured in an attack on an Iraqi Army recruitment center in Baghdad.
A military spokesman put the death toll at 58 and said 123 were wounded in the attack, the deadliest insurgent action in recent weeks.
A suicide bomber activated his charge amid a throng of recruits waiting their turn to sign registration papers.
"We were standing in the Al-Midan area and the army and the officers were registering our names for recruiting when a bomb went off," Saleh Aziz, one of the recruits wounded by the powerful blast, told Reuters from his hospital bed.
U.S. helicopters were soon hovering above as Iraqi troops closed off the area, preventing frantic relatives from gathering at the scene.
Iraqi military spokesman Major General Qassim al-Moussawi blamed Al-Qaeda in Iraq for the attack.
The incident comes at a sensitive moment for Iraq, when the country's political leaders have again shown their inability to provide the nation with a stable government, more than five months after a general election.
In the latest trouble, the Al-Iraqiyah bloc of former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has broken off talks on forming a ruling coalition with the State of Law alliance of current Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
Al-Iraqiyah has taken offense at Maliki's comments on television that Al-Iraqiyah is a "Sunni bloc" rather than a national movement, and is demanding an apology.
The situation is rendered more sensitive by the fact that U.S. combat troops are now leaving Iraq, with the plan being that their role will be taken over by Iraqi security forces.
By September 1, U.S. troop numbers will be reduced to 50,000 -- none of them engaged in combat roles -- with a full-scale withdrawal scheduled by the end of 2011.
The recent spike in insurgent violence is linked to these two developments, with the militants attempting to exploit any weaknesses emerging as the circumstances change.
However, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Colin Kahl is quoted by Reuters as saying in Washington that the overall security situation in Iraq remains positive.
Kahl said the number of violent incidents there is at its lowest levels of the seven-year war.
compiled from agency reports