A car bomb exploded in a commercial district of Iraq's second largest city Basra on Monday, killing at least 20 people and injuring about 40. The blast went off about 2030 local time (1530 GMT) in a commercial area filled with shops and restaurants.
Many of the buildings were packed with people out for the evening during Ramadan festivities, police said, adding the number of deaths was expected to rise.
Witnesses reported scenes of chaos and rescue vehicles raced to the scene.
Dazed survivors, their clothing stained with blood, stumbled in the darkness or wept in despair.
Basra, a mostly Shiite city and a centre of Iraq's petroleum industry, had been much more peaceful that Baghdad or cities within the volatile central, northern and western areas of the country where the Sunni Arab-led insurgency rages.
In recent months, however, the city has experienced a deterioration in security, due in large part to feuding among rival Shiite extremist groups which have infiltrated the police and security services, reports the AP. I.L.
The strike was defensive in nature and came in response to three attacks on the US military in February