Iraq car bomb kills 16

There has been another bombing in Iraq – this time a car bomb tore through a busy market in the Shi'ite holy city of Kufa, killing at least 16 people and wounding 70.

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The blast at Kufa struck about 10am on Tuesday in an area that also included a school and the mayor's office.

The 16 killed included women and children, said Salim Naima, spokesman of the Najaf health department.

Panicked people ran through the corridors searching for their relatives at al-Furat al-Awsat hospital in nearby Najaf. Women in black abayas, traditional Islamic cloaks, pounded their chests and faces in grief.

"We are poor people looking for anything to secure our livelihood and we have nothing to do with politics. Why do they do this to us?" said Firas Abdul-Karim, a 23-year-old day labourer who was wounded in the blast.

The revered Kufa mosque was about 400 metres from the blast.

Millions of Shi'ite Muslim pilgrims visit the shrines at Kufa and its sister holy city of Najaf, home to top Shi'ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani as well as radical anti-US Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

The attack came a day after Iraq's Sunni vice president threatened to leave the Shi'ite-dominated government unless key unspecified amendments to the constitution were made by May 15.

The predominantly Shi'ite southern areas have seen a spike in violence and unrest, blamed in part on militants who have fled a security crackdown in Baghdad.

On April 28, a suicide car bomber killed 68 people in a crowded commercial area near two of Iraq's most sacred Shi'ite shrines in Karbala, 70 kilometres northwest of Kufa. That attack came two weeks after a car bombing killed 47 people killed and wounded 224 wounded in the same area.

Hillah, about 95 kilometres south of Baghdad, also has been hit by some of the deadliest bombings this year, including a double suicide attack that killed 120 Shi'ite pilgrims and another one that killed 73 people in a market.

Kufa itself was struck by a December 30 at the fish market that killed 31 people.

Also on Tuesday, a roadside bomb went off next to a passing mini bus in the Shi'ite area of Zafaraniyah on the southeastern outskirts of Baghdad, killing three passengers and injuring five others, police said.

At least 68 people were killed or found dead nationwide on Monday, police said, including the bullet-riddled bodies of 30 men found in Baghdad – the apparent victims of sectarian death squads.

All but two were found in west Baghdad, including 17 in the Amil neighbourhood where Sunni politicians have complained of renewed attacks by Shi'ite militiamen, said a police official.

A suicide bomber struck a market on the outskirts of the city of Ramadi, west of Baghdad, on Monday afternoon, killing eight people, said police Colonel Tariq Youssef. About 15 minutes later, a second car bomb struck a nearby checkpoint, killing five people, including two policemen, Youssef said.

The attacks occurred in areas controlled by the Anbar Salvation Council, an alliance of Sunni tribes formed last year to drive al-Qaeda from the area. Council officials blamed the attacks on al-Qaeda.

"They committed this crime because we have identified their hideouts and we are chasing them," said Sheik Jabbar Naif al-Dulaimi.

In a web statement on Monday, an al-Qaeda front organisation, the Islamic State of Iraq, warned Sunnis against joining the government security forces – a move supported by the Salvation Council.

"We tell every father, mother, wife or brother who does not want to lose a relative to advise them not to approach the apostates and we swear to God that we will use every possible means to strike at the infidels and the renegades," the group said.

The security situation in the capital figured high in talks between Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and President George W Bush, who spoke on Monday in a video conference.

Maliki told Bush of the need to maintain cooperation between US and Iraqi forces as they continue their campaign to end the chaos and violence in Baghdad, the prime minister's office said in a statement.

White House spokesman Tony Snow said Bush and Maliki spoke about the Iraqi leader's push for political reconciliation, which is considered vital to bring stability.

"The prime minister is working with the presidency council to advance the political process in Iraq, including a lot of the legislation that we've been discussing over the last few months," Snow told reporters. "But issues of communications and reconciliation were at the fore."

Maliki, a Shi'ite, reiterated his determination to work with Sunni leaders, Snow said.

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