BAGHDAD, (AP) – A parked car bomb exploded in a crowded area near a medical complex in Baghdad on Sunday, killing at least nine people and wounding more than 30, officials said. It was the latest in an uptick in violence in the heart of the capital.
Elsewhere in Baghdad, a roadside bomb targeted an Iraqi army patrol at an intersection in a northeastern neighborhood, killing one civilian and wounding eight other people, including six soldiers and two civilians, police said.
The bombings came two days after an explosion struck Baghdad’s storied pet market, killing 15 people and wounding dozens in the deadliest attack in the city in more than two months.
American and Iraqi commanders have warned extremists still pose a threat to Iraq’s fragile security despite the downturn in violence since a U.S.-Iraqi security plan began in mid-February.
The U.S. military has blamed an Iranian-backed Shiite cell for Friday’s attack, saying it appeared the attackers wanted people to believe that the bomb, packed with ball-bearings to maximize casualties, was the work of al-Qaida in Iraq so that residents would turn to Shiite militias for protection.
A U.S. military spokesman, Rear. Adm. Gregory Smith, however, stressed he was not blaming Tehran as the military has not determined whether recent acts of violence are based on past or current support by Iran.
Tehran rejected any fault on Sunday.
“Contradictory reports have been heard about the bombing. But remarks by the Americans were made with the aim of making propaganda against Iran,” Mohammad Ali Hosseini, spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, told reporters in his weekly news conference in Tehran.
The U.S. has accused of Iran of training and arming Shiite militias in Iraq. Military officials recently have expressed cautious hope that Tehran would honor a pledge to stop the flow of weapons but said they were taking a “wait-and-see” approach. Iran has consistently denied the allegations.
One of Iraq’s most influential Shiite politicians defended Iran in strongly worded remarks on Sunday.
“These are only accusations raised by the multinational forces, and I think these accusations need more proof,” said Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, the head of the largest Shiite party in Iraq.
Al-Hakim has ties with Iran and is one of its staunchest supporters in Iraq, but he also has been a major partner in U.S. efforts to build a democratic system after the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003.
His remarks were among the strongest to date that appear to suggest Shiite support for Iran amid U.S. and regional concerns about its influence over its war-torn neighbor as various parties jockey for power with an eye toward the eventual withdrawal of American forces.
Al-Hakim, who heads the Supreme Islamic Iraq Council, noted Iran has long stated during meetings with officials “that their true will is to support the Iraqi government and to support stability and security in Iraq and to stand by the Iraqi people.”
“They have a long history of standing by the Iraqi people and that is their official stance that is presented to the press without any hesitation,” he said at a joint news conference with Shiite Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi.
His remarks came days after he returned from Iran, where he has been periodically undergoing treatment for lung cancer.
The U.S. and Iran have agreed to hold a fourth ambassador-level round of talks on security in Iraq, but no date has been set.
“We will work for the success of these talks so they will go well and the conclusions be positive and of benefit for all and in particular the Iraqi people,” al-Hakim said.
The deadliest attack on Sunday occurred about 9:30 a.m. in the central Bab al-Muadham neighborhood, a busy area that is the site of the Health Ministry and the central morgue as well as university institutes and a major bus terminal.
An official at the local Medical City Hospital, who requested anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to release the information, said the explosives-laden car had been left in a parking lot near the complex. He said the victims largely suffered from severe burns.
AP Television News footage showed U.S. soldiers examining the crumpled wreckage from the car bomb, with pools of blood and debris scattered on the ground.
Police and hospital officials said a medical assistant and a female lab worker were among the nine killed, while the 31 wounded included two Iraqi soldiers and two women.