Iraq hammered by plague of suicide bombings

NEW suicide bombings killed at least 22 people in the Baghdad area yesterday, while relatives struggled to identify charred bodies from a fiery suicide attack near a Shi’ite mosque in Musayyib that killed more than 90 people.

The government raised the death toll from Saturday’s attack in the town south of the Iraqi capital to “more than 90”, making it the second deadliest single terrorist bombing since the overthrow of Saddam

Hussein in April 2003. More than 150 people were wounded.

The US military announced that two American soldiers died in separate attacks over the weekend. At least 1,767 members of the US military have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

In Musayyib, 64 kilometres south of Baghdad, dazed survivors and relatives wept as they lifted blankets covering blackened bodies of victims from Saturday’s attack in which a man detonated explosives strapped to his body in front of a Shi’ite mosque.

Mortar shells fell near the city’s police station and hospital about five minutes after the blast, police Capt Muthanna Khaled Ali said.

The huge explosion occurred as worshippers were heading to sunset prayers and the street was bustling with families enjoying a stroll in the cool of the evening.

It appeared the bombing was directed at Shi’ite worshippers in the latest attack aimed at triggering sectarian war between Sunnis and Shi’ites.

The death toll in Saturday’s attack was exceeded only by a February 28 suicide car bombing in Hillah that killed 125, mostly Shi’ite police and National Guard recruits. On August 29 2003, a car bomb outside a mosque in Najaf killed more than 85, but a definitive death toll was never released. There were suspicions it was much higher.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani sent a message of condolence to the people of Musayyib. “After running out of their pretexts of resisting the occupation, the terrorists have been targeting religious places, children, oil and water facilities and Iraqi soldiers,” read Mr Talabani’s message.

US troops in Humvees and tanks also were at the scene yesterday morning, and a military spokesperson said a quick response unit had been dispatched shortly after the attacks.

Witnesses said a fuel tanker was moving slowly in the centre of the town when the blast occurred, but a tanker truck in the area was mostly intact Sunday.

Zeyd Mohammed, 25, said a tanker truck filled with fuel detonated as it approached the mosque.

“The truck was moving when the suicide attacker detonated himself. He was targeting the mosque,” Mr Mohammed said.

Musayyib, on the Euphrates River, sits in the “triangle of death”, an area so-named because of the large number of kidnappings and killings of Shi’ite Muslims travelling between Baghdad and the holy cities of Karbala and Najaf.

Yesterday’s violence started in the Iraqi capital with an attack on Iraqi police inspecting two bodies apparently left on the road by insurgents as a trap, the US military said in a statement. Two policemen and one civilian were killed and eight people wounded in the eastern New Baghdad neighbourhood.

About an hour later a second suicide car bomber hit a police convoy near the Bay’a bus station in southern Baghdad, killing three police commandos and four civilians, police Capt. Talib Thamir said. Three civilians also were wounded in that blast.

A third suicide car bomber missed a US convoy but struck two minibuses, killing six civilians and wounding nine in Mahmoudiya, about 32km south of Baghdad, police Capt. Rashid al-Samarie said.

Another car bomber triggered an explosion outside the offices of Iraq’s electoral commission in eastern Baghdad, killing five employees of Iraq’s electoral commission and one policeman, according to police and officials.

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