BAGHDAD, (Reuters) – More than 40 people were killed in bomb attacks in Iraq on Wednesday morning, including 24 at a busy market in Baghdad where insurgents seem intent on defying a major U.S.-backed security clampdown now in its fourth week.
A further 35 people were wounded in the attack on the Shorja wholesale market in central Baghdad, police said. Attacks in recent days have shattered a relative calm this past month.
A bomb in the nearby Karrada district killed two people and wounded 21 around the same time. A bomb went off near a busy fuel station, drawing a police unit in response. Five officers were then wounded in a second explosion, when a car detonated.
Three hours earlier, a bomb apparently left on a parked bicycle blasted a crowd of young Iraqi men outside an army recruiting office, killing 12 people and wounding 38.
Hilla provincial police spokesman Captain Muthanna al-Mamuri said the bicycle appeared to have been left early in the morning, laden with an explosive package, close to the office in the centre of Hilla, 100 km (60 miles) south of Baghdad.
It went off around 8 a.m. (0400 GMT), when a crowd had gathered. It followed several days of heavy bloodshed outside the capital, where U.S. and Iraq troops have mounted a major security crackdown.
Recruitment centres for the Iraqi army and police, key elements of Washington’s strategy for pulling out its own troops, have been frequent targets for insurgents from the Sunni Arab minority, including al Qaeda Islamists, who oppose the rise of the Shi’ite Muslim majority in U.S.-backed elections.
The mainly Shi’ite city of Hilla, close to the site of ancient Babylon, is surrounded by Sunni rural areas.
It has seen some of the deadliest sectarian bomb attacks over the past two years, including the bloodiest single blast in Iraq, when 125 people, many of them police recruits, were killed by a suicide car bomber in February 2005.
Despite the danger, young men continue to queue up at police and army recruitment centres, desperate for employment.
A large group of men responding to a newspaper advert for army recruits rioted outside the governor’s office in Samawa, 270 km (168 miles) south of Baghdad, after being told to come back at the weekend, a witness said.
The witness said the police initially fired warning shots and then shot into the crowd after they began throwing rocks at the building, killing one man and wounding five. Three policemen were also injured in the riot.
U.S. and Iraqi officials say the security crackdown in Baghdad is having an effect, with the murder rate down by half this month over last, when dozens of people a day were being killed in the capital alone, pitching Iraq closer to civil war.
Despite the crackdown, violence has continued in many parts of the capital and around Iraq. A roadside bomb hit a civilian car on a road near Buhriz, north of Baghdad, killing three women, a child and a man, all members of the same family.
The national unity government of Shi’ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki still faces a major task in building up its security forces to take over from some 150,000 mainly American troops.
A suicide car bomber killed 13 police outside the Interior Ministry building in Baghdad on Monday.
Underlining the range of threats to stability, Shi’ite militiamen and Iraqi troops fought an intense battle in Diwaniya 180 km (110 miles) south of Baghdad on Monday, leaving at least 30 people dead by official accounts, and possibly dozens more.
Iraq’s economy is crippled by the violence, causing among other things an acute shortage of fuel in a country with the world’s third largest reserves of crude oil.
Scavengers were caught by an explosion at a ruptured gasoline pipeline near Diwaniya late on Monday. At least 29 were killed, hospital officials said, but the death toll could be more than twice that, they added, because more than 30 people had been reported as missing.