Latest Bombs Aimed at Shiites Kill 8 at Southern Iraq Market

A car bomb detonated Friday near a fruit and vegetable market in Hilla, a Shiite town south of Baghdad, killing at least 8 people and wounding 41. It was the second attack in two days of bloodletting that has left 110 people dead.

The bomb, packed into a Mercedes sedan, was remotely detonated at 10:15 a.m. in Al Sharia market in central Hilla, tearing into a crowd of people shopping for food, a police official said. Two of the dead were children younger than 10 and two were women, said Dr. Baha al-Din Eqbal, a doctor at Hilla Hospital.

About 30 minutes after the first explosion, another car bomb detonated outside an American military base in the northern part of the city. There were no reports of casualties and the connection to the first bombing, if any, was unknown.

The first attack was similar to one just 16 hours before in Balad, 50 miles north of Baghdad, where three truck bombs exploded in quick succession, two in a crowded marketplace frequented mostly by Shiites. In that attack the death toll, initially reported as 62, rose sharply overnight and by Friday afternoon had reached 102, including 18 children, according to Dr. Qasim al-Qaisi, the manager of Balad Hospital. In all, 150 people were wounded, he said.

In a Web posting on Friday, the radical Islamist group Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia claimed responsibility for three bombings in Balad and said the attacks were aimed at Iraqi police patrols. It could not be determined whether the reference was to the three truck bombings.

The steady stream of bombings, aimed mostly at civilians in Shiite areas, has surged in recent weeks as Sunni Arab radicals pursue an aggressive strategy. Iraq is preparing to hold a national referendum on Oct. 15 on a new constitution, a document that most Sunni Arabs here strongly oppose, and American military officials have warned that the violence is likely to increase up to the day of the vote. On Friday, images of Hilla broadcast on Iraqi television showed scenes of grief and pain. Women covered in black abayas wailed outside a local morgue, rocking back and forth.

Bodies were covered in ordinary household blankets. Men in long dishdashas wandered through the charred remains of shops and past a burned-out hulk of a car.

Three of the 41 wounded patients were in critical condition, and Dr. Eqbal said he did not expect them to live through the night.

Video of the bombing site in Balad showed a large swath of a city block that had been destroyed. Rescue workers stepped around pools of blood. The wounded and the dead were too numerous for the local hospital and American troops took some to their own medical facilities. They brought bodies to Balad Hospital on Friday morning, said Rasaa Alwan al-Jibouri, an administrator there.

In Hilla and Balad, Iraqis spoke angrily into television cameras, demanding that the government take tougher action against those carrying out the bombings. A man in Hilla shouted: "Where is the security? Where are the policemen?" In Balad another man said, "We ask, where is the government?"

Many Shiites have expressed frustration with the government, led by Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jafaari, a religious Shiite, saying it has not taken decisive enough steps against the attackers.

Among some Shiites, the anger seemed to bring out the conviction that the constitution, which was drawn up largely by Shiite and Kurdish political parties, would help protect them. The Associated Press quoted Abu Waleed, a hotel owner in Balad, as saying, "This is a criminal act, and the constitution is going to succeed in spite of them." Seven people staying in his hotel were killed in the blast, he said.

Also in Balad, crowds gathered and chanted, "With our souls, with our blood, we sacrifice ourselves for the constitution.» Hilla, 60 miles south of Baghdad, has been the target of some of the most devastating bombings since the American invasion, including one in February that killed 122 people.

A roadside bomb also exploded Friday near a United States military convoy in Qaim, near the Syrian border, a police officer in the town told Reuters. After the attack, American helicopters swept the area, striking a mosque and killing four civilians in a car, he said.

In Basra, in the south, a police convoy was ambushed late Thursday, killing four policemen and wounding one, The Associated Press reported.

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