HILLA, Iraq  - Bombs exploded in the Iraqi capital and in the southern city of Hilla on Tuesday, killing at least 49 people, police and hospital sources said. The deadliest attacks on Tuesday occurred in and around Hilla, 100km south of Baghdad, where 35 people were killed in seven car bomb explosions inside the city itself and in the nearby towns of Haswa, Mahaweel and Mussayab. “Hilla hospital has received 35 bodies so far from seven car bomb blasts,” said one health official. A further 90 people were wounded in the blasts. Fourteen more people were killed in explosions in Baghdad. In one of those, a bomb inside a parked vehicle exploded near a bus station in the Bayaa district, killing five people, the sources said. There were also blasts in the Amil, Ilam and Shurta districts. Meanwhile, powerful cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on Tuesday slammed Iraq’s government as corrupt and its leader as a “tyrant” while calling on citizens to vote, days after announcing his exit from politics.

The televised speech seemed aimed at establishing the cleric, who leapt to prominence with his fierce criticism of the 2003 US-led invasion, as a figure above the everyday Iraqi political fray.

“Politics became a door for injustice and carelessness, and the abuse and humiliation of the rule of a dictator and tyrant who controls the funds, so he loots them... and the cities, so he attacks them, and the sects, so he divides them,” Sadr said.

He was apparently referring to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, whom he has repeatedly criticised in the past. Sadr called on Iraqis to vote in parliamentary elections that are now a little more than two months away.

Iraqis “must participate in these elections in a major way, so that the government does not fall into the hands of the dishonest,” Sadr said. He also reaffirmed his weekend announcement that he was separating himself from his powerful political movement, which holds dozens of parliamentary seats and six ministerial posts.

“I will remain for all - not for the Sadrists only, for I dedicated myself to Iraq and to Islam,” Sadr said in comments indicating he still could play an influential role in Iraq’s political future.

Sadr’s rise was aided by the reputations of two famed relatives - including his father, Mohammed Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr - who were killed during Saddam Hussein’s rule.

The move also aims to “end all the corruptions that occurred or which are likely to occur” that would harm the Sadr reputation, he said.

Sadr said his movement’s political offices would be closed, but that others related to social welfare, media and education would remain open.

He has left politics before only to resurface later on, but the fact that Sadrist MPs also announced their resignations “makes this appear more serious” than past departures, said Kirk Sowell an Amman-based political risk analyst and the publisher of Inside Iraqi Politics.

Sadr “usually backs out of the political limelight when he is physically threatened” or “when the Sadrist movement has to do something politically expedient that Sadr wants to disassociate from,” said Michael Knights, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Of Sadr’s possible return, Knights said: “Nothing is permanent in Iraq except death.”