A SUICIDE bomber driving a pick-up truck loaded with explosives struck at a bustling market in Baghdad, killing at least 36 people.

The attack was claimed by Daesh hours after French president François Hollande arrived in the Iraqi capital.

The bomb went off in a fruit and vegetable market that was packed with day labourers. A total of 52 people were wounded.

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During a press conference with Hollande, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said the bomber claimed to be hiring day labourers. Once the workers gathered around, he detonated the vehicle.

Daesh claimed the attack on a militant website often used by the extremists.

It was the third Daesh-claimed attack in as many days in and around Baghdad, underscoring the threat still posed by the group despite setbacks elsewhere in the country over the past year, including in and around Mosul.

The attack took place in Sadr City, a vast Shiite district in eastern Baghdad that has been repeatedly targeted by Sunni extremists since the 2003 US-led invasion.

Shiite militiamen loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr, the firebrand cleric after whose family the neighbourhood is named, were seen evacuating bodies in their trucks before ambulances arrived.

Dead bodies were scattered across the bloody pavement alongside fruit, vegetables and labourers’ shovels and axes. A minibus filled with dead passengers was on fire.

Asaad Hashim, an owner of a mobile phone store nearby, described how the labourers pushed and shoved around the bomber’s vehicle, trying to get hired.

“Then a big boom came, sending them up into the air,” said the 28-year old, who suffered shrapnel wounds to his right hand. He blamed “the most ineffective security forces in the world” for failing to prevent the attack.

An angry crowd cursed the government, even after a representative of al-Sadr tried to calm them.

Late last month, Iraqi authorities started removing some of the checkpoints around Baghdad in a bid to ease traffic in the capital.

“We have no idea who will kill at any moment and who’s supposed to protect us,” said Ali Abbas, a 40-year-old father of four who was hurled over his vegetable stand by the blast.

“If the securities forces can’t protect us, then allow us to do the job,” he added.

Three smaller bombings in the city yesterday killed another seven civilians and wounded at least 30.

Hollande meanwhile met with al-Abadi and President Fuad Masum, and was expected to travel to the self-governing northern Kurdish region to meet French troops and officials.

Iraqi troops, backed by a US-led coalition, are fighting Daesh in a bid to retake Mosul in the north.

Iraqi state TV said Hollande will discuss increasing support for Iraq and the latest developments in the 10-week-old offensive.

Hollande promised that France would remain a long-term ally of Iraq and called for co-ordination between intelligence services “in a spirit of great responsibility”, in remarks carried by his official Twitter account.

France is part of the US-led coalition formed in 2014 to fight Daesh after the extremist group seized large areas in Iraq and Syria. France has suffered multiple attacks claimed by the extremist group.

Since the Mosul operation started in October, Iraqi forces have seized about a quarter of the city.