BAGHDAD, Iraq — Two suicide bombers blew themselves up Thursday in a crowded outdoor market in a Shiite city south of Baghdad, killing 45 people and wounding 150, police said.
The attackers strolled into the Maktabat outdoor market in the center of Hillah, 60 miles south of Baghdad, about 6 p.m. as shoppers were buying food for their evening meals. Police thought one of the men appeared suspicious and stopped him, according to police.
The bomber then detonated his explosives. The second attacker who was walking behind him then set off his own explosives belt, police added.
The attack killed 45 people and wounded 150, said Capt. Muthanna Khaled, police spokesman in the southern province of Babil, of which Hillah is the capital.
Hillah was the scene of one of the deadliest attacks in the Iraq war, when a suicide car bomber killed 125 people on Feb. 28, 2005.
New record death toll
New figures showed that civilians deaths edged up to another record in January.
The data from an Interior Ministry official, widely viewed as an indicative but only partial record of violent deaths, showed 1,971 people died from “terrorism” in Iraq in January, slightly up from the previous high of 1,930 deaths in December.
In the latest violence in Iraq, two suicide bombers killed 15 people and wounded 25 when they blew themselves up near a market in the town of Hillah, 60 miles south of Baghdad, police said.
A man strapped with explosives also blew himself up in a minibus in the religiously mixed Baghdad district of Karrada, shredding the vehicle and killing six people and wounding 12.
Shortly afterwards a car bomb in Rusafi, one of Baghdad’s biggest shopping districts, killed three and wounded seven.
Police said 10 mortar bombs crashed into Adhamiya, a mainly Sunni area in northwest Baghdad, killing two and wounding nine.
The violence comes despite Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s announcement of a U.S.-backed crackdown on militants in the lawless capital. Thousands of U.S. troops are being sent to Baghdad to help Iraqi security forces in what is seen as a final attempt to avert all-out sectarian civil war.
‘Cease and desist’
U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns told U.S. National Public Radio in an interview for broadcast on Thursday that the United States had been tracking Iranian involvement in Iraqi insurgent attacks for about two years and has found increasing evidence that Iran has given assistance to Shiites in southern Iraq.
“We have picked up individuals who we believe are giving very sophisticated explosive technology to Shia insurgent groups who then use that technology to target and kill American soldiers,” Burns said.
“It’s a very serious situation. And the message from the United States is, Iran should cease and desist.”
More than 3,000 U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.
A U.S. embassy official in Baghdad said U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad had promised to meet a challenge by Iran’s ambassador to produce evidence of Iranian interference, but said the United States would do so according to its own timetable.
Spokesman Lou Fintor declined to say when that would be, because it would need to be handled in such a way as not to jeopardize U.S. intelligence gathering on Iran in future.
Maliki, a Shiite Islamist, has vowed to tackle militants on both sides of the sectarian divide. The prime minister has been criticized in the past for failing to confront militias tied to parties within his government, including some with ties to Iran, as the violence continues to spiral out of control.
Violence despite crackdown
The latest statistics on civilian deaths — 1,971 killed in “terrorism” in January — indicated no let-up in violence since Maliki announced his plan for the security crackdown in Baghdad, the epicenter of violence in Iraq.
The United Nations, which gathers data from the Health Ministry and Baghdad’s morgue, put the number of civilian deaths in December at 2,914, down from 3,462 in November.
All such statistics are controversial in Iraq. The latest tally given by the United Nations was branded exaggerated by the Iraqi government. The U.S. military gives no such figures.
The Iraqi government, frustrated at its inability to rein in the increasing violence, has stopped publishing figures.
The Interior Ministry toll, provided to Reuters by a source in the ministry, refers to people killed in “terrorism” — a category that may not include many of the dozens of unidentified bodies found daily in Baghdad, many the victims of sectarian death squads.
January’s figures also put the number of insurgents killed at 590, the highest toll for at least a year. That included a battle with a shadowy sect near the holy city of Najaf on Sunday in which the government said around 260 gunmen were killed.
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