/ 28 June 2007

Baghdad rocked by car bomb

A car bomb killed 25 people and wounded 40 on Thursday at an intersection in Baghdad where minibuses pick up and drop off passengers, Iraqi police said.

In the southern city of Basra, a roadside bomb killed three British soldiers and seriously wounded another in the early hours of Thursday, the British military said.

The soldiers were on foot at the time of the blast in south-eastern Basra, spokesperson Major David Gell said.

Police in Baghdad said the car bomb exploded in the mainly Shi’ite district of Bayaa. About 40 vehicles were destroyed by the bomb, which went off during the morning rush hour.

The Bayaa area in south-west Baghdad has been a frequent target of car bombs blamed on Sunni Islamist al-Qaeda.

Tens of thousands of United States and Iraqi troops are engaged in an offensive against al-Qaeda in an attempt to take down its car-bomb networks, which have killed and maimed thousands of Iraqis.

”It was a horrible explosion. Many, many people have been killed,” said witness Aqeel Kadhim, saying pick-up trucks and ambulances rushed to take away the dead and wounded.

One local journalist said he had seen at least 20 bodies.

The blast dug a huge crater where the minibuses parked.

Residents could be seen searching the burned out minibuses for bodies. Corpses, some charred beyond recognition, lay twisted on the ground.

Mortar bombs also hit the commercial Shorja district in central Baghdad, killing at least two people and wounding 14, police said.

Routine convoy

Gell said the British soldiers were part of a routine convoy heading out of Basra and had dismounted from their armoured vehicles in the al-Mutahya district.

Foreign soldiers in Iraq increasingly get out in areas known to be mined with roadside bombs to reduce the risk of more casualties should a big blast hit a single vehicle carrying a number of troops.

”It is with deep regret that I can confirm three soldiers were killed by an improvised explosive device,” Gell said.

The blast came a day after Gordon Brown replaced Tony Blair as Britain’s prime minister. Blair’s rule ended with his popularity badly dented by the 2003 Iraq war.

Britain has handed security responsibility back to Iraq in three of four southern provinces, with only the province of Basra remaining. The number of British troops in Iraq has been cut from about 7 000 to about 5 500.

More than 150 British soldiers have been killed in Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003.

US President George Bush has sent 28 000 extra troops, mainly to Baghdad, to help curb bloodshed and buy time for Shi’ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to reach a political accommodation with disaffected minority Sunni Arabs, who are locked in a cycle of violence with majority Shi’ite Muslims.

US officials accuse al-Qaeda of trying to tip Iraq into full-scale sectarian civil war. — Reuters