BAGHDAD — Six bombs exploded in predominantly Shiite sections of the capital Sunday, killing at least 45 people in a renewal of sectarian carnage that set back the U.S. push to pacify Baghdad.
Beleaguered Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki suffered another blow later in the day when two officials close to the radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said his followers would quit their Cabinet posts Monday, raising a threat that the government could collapse.
North of Baghdad, two British helicopters crashed after an apparent mid-air collision, killing two service members, U.K. officials said.
The U.S. military announced three U.S. troop deaths — two soldiers and a Marine killed in separate incidents.
And in the holy Shiite city of Karbala, health officials raised the toll from a bombing Saturday close to one of the sect’s most sacred shrines, saying 47 people were killed and 224 wounded.
Twin car bombs exploded minutes apart in the busy market of Baghdad’s Shurta Rabia neighborhood, a mostly Shiite area in the city’s west. The first blast went off at midmorning in front of a kebab restaurant. Five minutes later, another car exploded nearby as rescuers were evacuating victims. Many women and children were among the casualties, police said.
Shortly after noon, a suicide bomber blew himself up on a minibus near a courthouse in the mainly Shiite northwest Baghdad neighborhood of al-Utafiyah, killing at least eight people and wounding 11, officials said.
Many of the victims were severely burned, an official at the Khazimiyah Hospital said.
Minibus blast kills 11
About three hours later, a minibus rigged with explosives detonated on a busy street of electronics shops in the predominantly Shiite central Karradah district, killing 11 people and wounding 15, authorities said.
The owner of a glass shop said he saw a suspect park the bus at the roadside and leave.
“It was an ordinary thing because usually bus drivers stop there waiting for passengers, so we didn’t suspect anything,” said the witness, who gave only his nickname, Abu Jassim.
“Five minutes later, the bus blew up — damaging the surrounded area and burning more than eight civilian cars that were passing by,” he said.
In the same district after nightfall, two roadside bombs exploded within five minutes of each other, killing at least eight civilians and wounding 23, police said.
Six shops and several cars parked nearby were damaged by the blasts, which occurred about 20 yards apart, police said.
Maliki government in peril?
Two officials in al-Sadr’s organization said the cleric had ordered his supporters on al-Maliki’s Cabinet, six in all, to withdraw as a protest over arrests of leaders in his Shiite militia and the prime minister’s failure to back a timetable for U.S. withdrawal.
The six ministers will officially resign Monday, said Saleh al-Aujaili and Hassan al-Rubaie, both members of al-Sadr’s bloc in parliament. They said al-Sadr’s 30 legislators would remain in parliament.
Losing the six Sadrist ministers would further sap al-Maliki’s already weak government, possibly causing it to collapse. The threat comes two months into a U.S. military campaign intended to pacify Baghdad and bolster the government. Leaders of al-Sadr’s militia have been arrested in the crackdown.
2 U.K. soldiers die in crash
The two British helicopters crashed after an apparent collision 12 miles north of Baghdad, killing two British personnel. Four other personnel were injured in the crash, one very seriously.
U.K. Defense Secretary Des Browne said that initial reports suggested the crash was an accident.
“Sadly, two personnel have died and one is very seriously injured. All of these were UK personnel. My thoughts and sympathy are with them and their families,” Browne said, adding that the next of kin had been informed.
British forces, headquarters in the southern city of Basra, rarely fly missions north of Baghdad, where the helicopters crashed.
“I can’t talk about the particular mission they were involved in, but we do have units operating as part of the coalition across Iraq,” a British defense ministry official said on condition of anonymity, in line with government policy.
One U.S. soldier was killed by small arms fire Sunday while trying to reach an Iraqi police unit under attack near a mosque in southern Baghdad, the military said in a statement. One civilian was wounded in the incident.
Another soldier died Saturday when a roadside bomb exploded during a foot patrol south of Baghdad, the military said. A Marine died the same day in combat in Anbar province.
Meanwhile, dozens of Iraqi policemen demonstrated in front of their Baghdad station Sunday, accusing U.S. forces of treating them like “animals” and “slaves.”
The protest took place at Rashad station in Baghdad’s eastern neighborhood of Mashtal.
Officers chanted “No, no to America! Get out occupiers!” while U.S. troops in two humvees and a Bradley fighting vehicle watched from a distance.
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