BAGHDAD, Iraq, AP -Two car bombs targeting policemen exploded at a bus station in central Baghdad Wednesday, and a third detonated near a hospital were the wounded were being taken, killing at least 41 and wounding 85, officials said.
In the first of the coordinated strikes, a suicide car bomber targeting policemen detonated his vehicle outside Baghdad”s al-Nahda bus station, the U.S. military said. A second car loaded with explosives detonated inside the bus terminal.
A second suicide bomber detonated explosives near the al-Kindi hospital where many of the wounded from the first two attacks were arriving for treatment, police Maj. Thamir al-Gharawi said. It was unclear if the hospital was targeted in the blast.
Bodies were strewn across the bus station”s parking lot. U.S. and Iraqi forces responded to the blasts, the first of which went off at about 8 a.m.
Police Capt. Nabil Abdul-Qader said the parked car bomb targeted buses that carry passengers to Amarah and Basra, Shiite-dominated cities in southern Iraq. He said 41 people died and 85 were wounded in the attacks.
On Tuesday, Kurdish leaders insisted they have no plan to secede from Iraq even if they want the new constitution to give them the right to do so — one of the issues that forced a delay in finishing the draft charter.
Meetings were to resume Wednesday among Iraqi leaders seeking to finish the draft by the new deadline — midnight Aug. 22.
Iraqi leaders expressed confidence they would overcome differences over remaining issues, including Kurdish demands for self-determination and the role of Islam, by Monday.
However, many leaders were equally sanguine about prospects for meeting the original Aug. 15 deadline. If no agreement can be reached this time, the interim constitution requires that parliament be dissolved.
Different groups gave conflicting information on what had been resolved and what stood in the way of a deal.
Shiite lawmakers cited the role of Islam — an issue that affects women”s rights — and self-determination for the Kurds, which Arabs fear would mean they would eventually secede from the country.
President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, insisted the Islam issue had been solved and "you will see in the constitution that it is not a problem."
Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shiite, mentioned federalism, the election law and the formula for distributing revenue from oil and other natural resources. Sunni negotiator Mohammed Abed-Rabbou said "the most important point is federalism."
Most also cited Kurdish demands for self-determination — a step beyond federalism because it would imply the right to break away from Iraq. U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad insisted that self-determination was "not on the table."
Talabani, leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, acknowledged that his fellow Kurds wanted self-determination but brushed aside talk of secession.
"There are rumors that the Kurds want to secede, but they are for unity," he told reporters Tuesday. He said he expected the constitution to be finished "before the deadline."
Other Kurds defended their self-determination demand, although they insisted they has no plans to secede.
"Kurdish politicians have no present intentions to gain independence. But we need self-determination in order to decide our future in case troubles erupt in Iraq in the future," said Mullah Bakhtiyar, a senior official in the Kurdish Democratic Party.
"We are not making surprise or sudden demands, it is the Shiites who are doing so," said Bakhtiyar. He also said Shiites were pressing to grant special status for their clerics.
Bakhtiyar said such special status would be "a dangerous thing because every sect will seek orders from its religious leadership and this means that there will be no rule by law or constitution."
Al-Jaafari, the prime minister, said disagreements were largely over details and he expressed confidence that Iraq”s constitution could be finished within a week.
"I hope that we will not need another extension. The pending points do not need too much time and God willing we will finish it on time," he said Tuesday.
The delay was an embarrassment for the Bush administration, which insisted that the original deadline be met to maintain political momentum and blunt Iraq”s deadly insurgency.
The U.S. military announced Tuesday that three American soldiers were killed the night before when their vehicle overturned during combat operations in south Baghdad. At least 15 Iraqis were killed Tuesday in Baghdad and central Iraq in insurgency-related violence.
On Wednesday, the military said a U.S. soldier had been killed by a roadside bomb while on patrol Tuesday in Baghdad.
If agreement on a constitution is reached, Iraqis will vote around Oct. 15 to accept or reject the charter, leading to more elections in December for the country”s first fully constitutional government since the U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein”s regime in 2003.
Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador, sought to downplay the delay, adding that he was convinced a deal could be reached by the new Aug. 22 deadline.
"I believe that an agreement will be arrived at if the leaders continue with the attitude of compromising, putting oneself in the shoes of the other side," Khalilzad told reporters in Baghdad.