Triple car bombing kills 40 in southern Iraq

Forty people were killed and more than 125 wounded when three car bombs exploded in quick succession in the Shi’ite city of Amara in southern Iraq on Wednesday, police said.

The attacks in the capital of Maysan province were among the deadliest this year in southern Iraq and came as tensions ran high across the region, where rival Shi’ite factions are competing for influence as Britain reduces its troop levels.

Iraq said the bombings would not affect plans by Britain to hand back security control of neighbouring Basra province, the hub for most of the country’s oil exports. Government spokesperson Ali al-Dabbagh said that handover would take place on Sunday, announcing the transfer date for the first time.

One police official in Amara said 40 people had been killed in the blasts, which happened on a busy main street. A health official said 39 were killed and more than 125 wounded.

The British military, which gave control of Maysan to Iraqi forces in April, said 20 people had been killed and put the number of car bombs at two.

The street was a scene of chaos, with cars torn apart and pools of blood on the ground.

”Operating rooms are stretched to the limit because of the number of wounded. The city is in shock because it’s the first big explosion like this,” the police official said by telephone.

Most people were killed in the second and third blasts, police said. Many onlookers had gathered after the first blast in a parking lot and were killed or wounded when the subsequent car bombs exploded.

Southern Iraq has largely escaped the sectarian carnage that has plagued other parts of the country. Car bombings, often blamed on Sunni Islamist al-Qaeda militants, usually happen in and around Baghdad or in provinces north of the capital.

But southern Iraq is witnessing a turf war between rival Shi’ite groups, including supporters of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mehdi Army militia, and its chief rival the powerful Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council.

Officials said a curfew had been imposed in Amara, a city of several hundred thousand people about 365km south-east of Baghdad. They said an unknown number of suspects had been detained.

‘Desperate attack’

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki condemned the bombings in a statement, calling them a ”desperate attempt” to draw attention away from recent security gains across Iraq. State television said the provincial police chief had been sacked.

The bombings came three days after British Prime Minister Gordon Brown paid a brief visit to Basra city, where he praised British forces for their efforts to stabilise southern Iraq.

The British military’s handover of security in Basra will complete its transfer of control of four southern provinces.

”[The bombing] has nothing to do with Basra. The handover will go ahead on the 16th of this month. The quality of the forces in Basra is excellent,” government spokesperson Dabbagh said at a conference on development in Basra.

Maysan is home to the Marsh Arabs and has large oil fields. A year ago, clashes broke out between militiamen and police in Amara, prompting the dispatch of hundreds of Iraqi troops.

Adding to the tensions in southern Iraq in recent months has been the assassination of two provincial governors. Senior police officials have also been killed.

Analysts fear Shi’ite factions will intensify their battle for political supremacy as Britain further cuts troop levels.

However, there has not yet been an upsurge of intra-Shi’ite violence in Basra city, which is the most important hub in southern Iraq and where most of Iraq’s oil exports pass through. — Reuters

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