More than 30 killed in suicide blast in Iraq

A suicide bomber killed at least 35 people and wounded over 90 near a sacred Shi’ite shrine in the southern Iraqi city of Najaf on Thursday, hospital sources said.

They said the bomber blew himself up when he was stopped at a police commando checkpoint as he was heading to the Imam Ali shrine.

Shi’ite al-Forat television channel said there were two attacks, including the suicide blast that was also near a market.

Ambulances drove through the streets of Najaf appealing for blood donations as the scale of devastation became clear and the numbers of injured rose.

The dead included police and civilians, police and hospital sources said.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq has staged several suicide bomb attacks in a bid to draw Iraq’s majority Shi’ites into a sectarian civil war with Sunni Arabs, although there was no immediate claim for Thursday’s attack.

Mostly Shi’ite, Najaf, 160km south of Baghdad, has been relatively stable compared to other parts of Iraq, where a raging Sunni Arab insurgency is aimed at toppling the United States-backed government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

But it has previously been hit by bombings. In December 2004, a suicide car bomb killed 52 and wounded at least 140 near the same Iman Ali shrine.

The US has boosted its troop levels in Baghdad in another attempt to ease sectarian violence and build confidence in the new Shi’ite-led government.

Al-Maliki has pledged to disarm rival militias and bring sects together since coming to power more than two months ago, but violence keeps raging.

Almost 2 000 bodies were brought to the Baghdad morgue in July, the highest number in five months in a grim demonstration of the scale of violence that is now besieging the capital.

It was the largest monthly toll since the aftermath of the February bombing of the Shi’ite Golden Mosque of Samarra, which triggered an explosion of sectarian killing.

About 6 000 additional Iraqi forces and 3 500 US soldiers from the 172nd Striker Brigade combat team are being deployed in the Baghdad area and are expected to start systematically clearing neighbourhoods of militants and insurgents.

Separately, the US military said it was still looking for two US servicemen missing since Tuesday when their Blackhawk helicopter crashed in the insurgent stronghold of Anbar province, west of Baghdad.—Reuters