- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 29, 2007

BAGHDAD — A car bomb exploded yesterday in the Shi’ite holy city of Karbala as the streets were packed with people heading for evening prayers, killing at least 58 and wounding scores near some of the country’s most sacred shrines. Separately, the U.S. military announced the deaths of nine U.S. troops, including three killed yesterday in a single roadside bombing outside Baghdad.

With black smoke in the skies above Karbala, angry crowds hurled stones at police and later stormed the provincial governor’s house, accusing authorities of failing to protect them from the unrelenting bombings usually blamed on Sunni insurgents. It was the second car bomb to strike the city’s central area in two weeks.

Near the blast site, survivors frantically searched for missing relatives. Iraqi television showed one man carrying the charred body of a small girl above his head as he ran down the street, while ambulances rushed to retrieve the wounded and firefighters sprayed water at fires in the wreckage, leaving pools of bloody water.

The U.S. troops killed in Iraq included five who died in fighting Friday in Anbar province, three killed when a roadside bomb struck their patrol southeast of Baghdad and one killed in a separate roadside bombing south of the capital.

The deaths raised to 99 the number of members of the U.S. military who have died this month and at least 3,346 who have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

The blast occurred at about 7 p.m. in a crowded commercial area near the shrines of Imam Abbas and Imam Hussein, major Shi’ite saints.

Security officials said the car packed with explosives was parked near a cement barrier intended to keep traffic away from the shrines, which draw thousands of Shi’ite pilgrims from Iran and other countries.

That suggested the attack, which occurred two weeks after 47 persons were killed and 224 were wounded in a car bombing in the same area on April 14, was aimed at killing as many Shi’ite worshippers as possible.

Salim Kazim, the head of the health department in Karbala, 50 miles south of Baghdad, said 55 persons were killed and 168 wounded. The figures were confirmed by Abdul-Al al-Yassiri, the head of Karbala’s provincial council.

“I did not expect this explosion because I thought the place was well protected by the police,” said Qassim Hassan, a clothing merchant who was injured by the blast. “I demand a trial for the people in charge of the security in Karbala.”

Mr. Hassan, who spoke to a reporter from his hospital bed, said his brother and a cousin were still missing. “I regret that I voted for those traitors who only care about their posts, not the people who voted for them.”

The U.S. military has warned that such bombings were intended to provoke retaliatory violence by Shi’ite militias, whose members have largely complied with political pressure to avoid confrontations with Americans during the U.S. troop buildup.

The radical Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr issued a strong attack earlier yesterday on President Bush, calling him the “greatest evil” for refusing to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq.

Sheik al-Sadr’s statement was read during a parliament session by his cousin, Liqaa al-Yassin, after the U.S. Congress voted to direct U.S. troops to begin leaving Iraq by Oct. 1. Mr. Bush pledged to veto the measure, and neither the House nor the Senate has enough votes to override him.

“Here are the Democrats calling you to withdraw or even set a timetable, and you are not responding,” Sheik al-Sadr’s statement said. “It is not only them who are calling for this, but also Republicans, to whom you belong.”

“If you are ignoring your friends and partners, then it is no wonder that you ignore the international and Iraqi points of view,” the sheik said.

Sheik al-Sadr led two armed uprisings against U.S. forces in 2004, and his Mahdi’s Army militia is thought to be responsible for much of Iraq’s sectarian killing of Sunni Muslims. The U.S. military says he has fled to Iran, although his followers insist he is hiding in Iraq.

Mr. al-Yassiri said local authorities had raised fears that militants fleeing the Baghdad security crackdown were infiltrating his area.

“We have contacted the interior minister and asked them to supply us with equipment that can detect explosives,” he said.

Ali Mohammed, 31, who sells prayer beads in the area, said he heard the blast and felt himself hurled into the air.

“The next thing I knew, I opened my eyes in the hospital with my legs and chest burned,” he said. “This is a disaster. What is the guilt of the children and women killed today by this terrorist attack?”

Crowds stormed the provincial government offices and the governor’s house, burning part of it, along with three cars and scuffling with guards. Security forces detained several armed protesters, said Ghalib al-Daami, a provincial council member.

Yesterday’s bombing was the deadliest attack in Iraq since April 18, when 127 persons were killed in a car bombing near the Sadriyah market in Baghdad — one of four bombings that killed 183 persons in the bloodiest day since a U.S.-Iraq security operation began in the capital more than 10 weeks ago.

The U.S. military also said yesterday that a suicide truck bomber attacked the home of a city police chief the day before in the Sunni-insurgent stronghold of Anbar province, killing nine Iraqi security forces and six civilians. Police Chief Hamid Ibrahim al-Numrawi and his family escaped injury after Iraqi forces opened fire on the truck before it reached the concrete barrier outside the home in Hit, 85 miles west of Baghdad.

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