Multiple car bombs exploded at about the same time and killed at least 40 people in a mainly Shi’ite town north of Baghdad on Thursday, officials said.
A hospital source said in addition to the 40 dead, at least 80 more people were wounded in the blasts. One witness reported seeing at least eight people killed in one of the blasts.
The explosions took place in the predominantly Shi’ite town of Khalis, 80km north of Baghdad. Police said one car bomb exploded near a bank, a second near a mosque, a third at a security force checkpoint and a fourth near a court.
The attacks come as sectarian tension has been fuelled by a huge truck bomb in a northern town that provoked mass reprisal killings by Shi’ite militias and police.
”There was a huge blast near some shops. I threw myself on the floor and covered my head with my hands. The air was filled with dust and smoke,” said Ali Sadiq, a civil servant in Khalis, who was standing at a taxi rank near one of the blasts.
”Within minutes I heard another blast and then a third,” Sadiq told Reuters by telephone, adding that he saw eight bodies scattered around and at least four shops destroyed.
There was uncertainty over whether three or four bombs exploded.
There has been a spate of bombings outside Baghdad in recent weeks as United States and Iraqi security forces launched a major crackdown on insurgents in the capital.
Hours after truck bombs killed 85 people on Tuesday in a Shi’ite area of Tal Afar, up to 70 Sunni Arab men were shot dead in a town that only a year ago was held up by US President George Bush as an example of progress towards peace.
Iraq’s Sunni vice-president urged the government on Thursday to do more to purge security forces of militias after a group of Shi’ite police shot scores of Sunni Arab men after the two truck bombs in Tal Afar, near the Syrian border.
The governor of Nineveh province, which includes the town of Tal Afar, said police officers who took part in the reprisal shootings were arrested but then freed again to prevent unrest.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shi’ite, has ordered an inquiry into the involvement of police in the killings.
Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi, the most senior Sunni Arab politician, said militias acting under ”official cover” in the reprisal killings should be treated as severely as insurgents.
Militia infiltration of security forces has long been a problem in restoring stability to Iraq, with many Sunni Arabs complaining they are unfairly targeted by police and army. — Reuters