BAGHDAD, Iraq, Ap – Three car bombs rocked northern Baghdad Sunday morning within a span of half an hour while another struck a Shiite holy city, killing at least 17 and wounding 44.
British Defense Secretary Des Browne, meanwhile, said the unrest that followed a British helicopter crash Saturday in the southern Iraqi city of Basra did not mean that the security situation had deteriorated there.
The crash triggered a confrontation in which jubilant Iraqis pelted British troops with stones, firebombs and chanted slogans in support of radical Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
Iraq authorities say at least four British soldiers were killed in the crash and the chopper was brought down by a shoulder-fired missile — a weapon widely available among insurgent groups and armed militias in Iraq. The British Defense Ministry has confirmed that “a number of British personnel were killed,” but has not provided a specific figure.
“It is not an indication of the state of either the city of Basra or the provinces that we have responsibility for,” Browne said in an interview with Sky News. “Day on day, the local forces are coming into control of this area because of the training that we have been able to give them and with our allies.”
The car bombing in Karabala, home to one of the two holiest Shiite shrines, killed five people and wounded 19 near the provincial government building, said Hassanein al-Zubeidi, and aid to the governor, and police spokesman Rahman Mishawi.
It occurred at 9:30 a.m. — 10 minutes after the last blast in Baghdad — as workers were returning to their offices after the Islamic weekend, said al-Zubeidi. The bomber got within 300 yards of the heavily fortified government building, and set off the explosives in an area of heavy traffic. Eight cars were burned.
Police said smoke could be seen rising from the site, as authorities fired wildly in the air.
The worst strike in Baghdad — a suicide car bombing — targeted an Iraqi army patrol at 9:20 a.m. in the northern Baghdad neighborhood of Azamiyah. Ten people were killed 15 wounded, most of them Iraqi soldiers, police Lt. Col. Falah al-Mohammedawi said.
The first two Baghdad bombs targeted police patrols. Insurgents often target Iraqi police and soldiers, trying to discourage Sunni Arabs from joining government security forces.
A bomb a 8:50 a.m. missed the patrol but killed one civilian and wounded five, police Lt. Ahmed Mohammed Ali said.
Ten minutes later, the second car bomb went off near the private Ibn al-Haitham College in northern Baghdad. One civilian was killed and six were wounded, al-Mohammedawi said.
Browne said that the clashes in Basra were brought under control in a matter of hours and that 200-300 people participated in the violence in a city of some 1.5 million.
Four Iraqi adults and a child were reported killed during in the melee when Shiite gunmen exchanged fire with British soldiers who hurried to the scene. About 30 civilians were injured. Authorities said as many as three British armored vehicles were set on fire.
Browne, who was appointed Friday in a Cabinet shuffle, said he has been in constant contact with British military commanders in Iraq and they have told him that “calm and control had been restored in Basra and that people were going about their ordinary business.”
The violence underscored that discontent over the presence of foreign soldiers has been growing among Iraq’s majority Shiites even though they have generally steered clear of the Sunni Arab-dominated insurgency.
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani sent a message to British Prime Tony Blair expressing his condolences.
“I can assure you that Iraqis continue to honor and appreciate the efforts and sacrifices made by her Majesty’s forces,” said Talabani, a Kurd.
The city was largely calm Sunday after an evening curfew. Authorites were trying to avert the kind of violence that erupted in September when British troops battled Shiite gunmen in Basra. The fighting was sparked by the arrest of two British undercover soldiers by Iraqi police, who have heavily infiltrated by Shiite militias. British forces raided the jail to free the men.
Trouble in the largely Shiite region is due in part to the growing influence of al-Sadr, who led two armed uprisings against U.S.-led forces in 2004 and who has been an outspoken critic of the U.S.-led foreign military mission.
Elsewhere in Iraq, the bound and bullet-ridden bodies of eight men were found early Sunday in eastern Baghdad, said police Lt. Bilal Ali. Two other bodies with bullet wounds were found separately in eastern Baghdad, police said.
A day earlier, authorities found four charred bodies dumped in the southern Baghdad, police Lt. Thair Mahmoud said Sunday.
Fierce clashes broke out early Sunday between gunmen and police in the southwestern Baghdad neighborhood of Saydiyah. The hour-long fighting left three policemen wounded and led to the arrest of three of the gunmen.
Unidentified gunmen also shot dead a man in another southwestern Baghdad neighborhood as he headed to work at a wholesale market, police Lt. Col. Falah al-Mohammedawi said.
A roadside bomb hit a police patrol in eastern Mosul, killing three policemen and wounding another, said police Maj. Gen. Wathiq Mohammed Abdul-Qadir.
Also, the U.S. military announced the arrest of three suspected insurgents in Balad, 50 miles north of Baghdad. The men were fleeing the area when they were observed by a patrol on Saturday. At the scene, U.S. troops found a weapons cache.
The U.S. military also said two insurgents were killed in Tikrit, 80 miles north of Baghdad, Saturday while they were planting a roadside bomb.