Car bombs blast Baghdad, killing 65

Two car bombs ripped through a busy commercial area of central Baghdad on Monday, killing 65 people and wounding 110, the Interior Ministry said.

After a relative lull in violence in the capital at the weekend, the car bombs exploded simultaneously in the Bab al-Sharji area just after midday. Police said the bombs exploded near a market for second-hand goods.

United States President George Bush is sending more than 21 000 fresh troops to Iraq to help the Shi’ite-led Iraqi government stop Shi’ite death squads and Sunni insurgents blamed for spiralling sectarian violence that threatens all-out civil war.

Most of the reinforcements, 17 000, are to be deployed in Baghdad, where US generals say previous offensives failed because there were too few boots on the ground to hold neighbourhoods that had been cleared in house-to-house sweeps — and because the government failed to go after Shi’ite militias.

Monday’s blasts came after a particularly bloody weekend for US forces in Iraq.

Twenty-seven servicemen were killed in a helicopter crash, clashes with militants and roadside bombs. All but two were killed on Saturday, the third deadliest day for US troops since the war started in March 2003.

Neighbourhood sealed off

Early on Monday, US-backed Iraqi forces sealed off a predominantly Sunni neighbourhood in Baghdad, but the Defence Ministry said it was not the start of a promised new offensive.

Residents of Adhamiya, in northern Baghdad, said Iraqi soldiers had set up checkpoints on roads leading into the area and were preventing motorists from passing through. They said the operation followed several nights of shooting.

An armoured force of US troops in Stryker vehicles was also seen, other witnesses said. They reported seeing residents walking out of the district on foot towards a nearby highway to catch lifts from passing cars.

The US military said on Sunday that about 3 200 fresh soldiers had arrived in Baghdad, the epicentre of the sectarian violence. Securing the capital is seen as crucial to stopping Iraq’s descent into civil war.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki announced a major security plan for Baghdad earlier this month, vowing to crush illegal armed groups ”regardless of sect or politics”. – Reuters

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