Car bombs kill at least 70 overnight in Iraq

A volley of evening suicide bombs devastated the centre of the mainly Shia town of Balad, killing at least 70 people and injuring 70 others, as American top brass admitted there were fewer Iraqi troops capable of fighting insurgents than previously claimed.

Three suicide car bombers struck almost simultaneously shortly before sunset, as residents thronged the main shopping area in Balad, which lies about 50 miles north of Baghdad and is also home to a huge US airbase. It was the latest sign of escalating violence in Iraq ahead of a vote on a new constitution due on October 15.

Witnesses said the bombers targeted a vegetable market, a bank, and another building. Police said the timing of the attacks was unusual.

Most suicide bombers strike in the morning. Hospital officials said they expected the death toll to rise.

No immediate claim was made for the attacks, which brought the death toll in the last four days in Iraq to at least 140, including 13 US soldiers.

Yesterday the US military announced the death of five soldiers who were killed by a roadside bomb in the city of Ramadi, west of Baghdad.

Meanwhile, US generals reporting to the Senate in Washington said that the number of Iraqi troops capable of fighting the insurgency without US support has dropped from three battalions to one in the past three months, reports Guardian.

Acoording to the AP, the U.S. ambassador has been struggling to negotiate changes to the charter in hopes of winning Sunni Arab support. Frustrating his efforts, Sunnis said U.S. troops raided the homes of two Sunni leaders on Thursday, fueling their sense of alienation in the political process.

Also Thursday, the U.S. military announced the deaths of five U.S. soldiers Wednesday in a roadside bombing during combat in Ramadi, west of Baghdad, a hotbed of Iraq's insurgency.

It was the deadliest single attack against American troops in more than a month, bringing to 1,934 the number of U.S. service members who have died since Iraq's war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. More than 140 people, including 13 U.S. service members, have been killed in the past four days.

Until Thursday, however, Balad 50 miles north of Baghdad and the site of a major U.S. military air base had seen few major attacks.

The blasts left streets strewn with body parts and wounded as emergency vehicles rushed in. The attackers detonated their explosives-packed cars within minutes of each other, starting at 6:45 p.m. at the Masraf Street market, then at nearby Bint al-Hassan Street, a major commercial avenue, said police Lt. Ghafil Hassan.

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