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3 car bombs in Baghdad kill 51, wound dozens

Smoke rises from the site where three ca
Smoke rises after three car bombs explode in central Baghdad on Saturday.Joseph Eid / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: The Associated Press

Three parked car bombs exploded in central Baghdad on Saturday near a predominantly Shiite area packed with vendors, killing at least 51 people and wounding dozens, officials said. Earlier reports had put the death toll at 91.

The bombs were about 100 yards apart in the busy al-Sadriyah shopping district and exploded nearly simultaneously, according to police Lt. Ali Muhsin. At least 10 other parked vehicles were destroyed in the area, where vendors sell fruit, vegetables and other items such as soap.

Muhsin and hospital officials said 51 people were killed and 91 were wounded.

The blast, which sent huge clouds of black smoke rising into the sky, was in a popular area with narrow alleys that made it difficult for rescue vehicles to reach the scene. AP Television News footage showed a pickup truck carrying bodies to the hospital.

The attack came more than a week after a Nov. 23 bombing and mortar attack killed 215 people and wounded more than 200 in the Shiite district of Sadr City in Baghdad, stoking sectarian tensions.

Elsewhere in Baghdad, gunmen attacked the main gate of Yarmouk Hospital, killing one policeman and wounding three, and the bodies of 12 people who had been handcuffed and shot to death were found by police, they said.

Violence also occurred north and south of Baghdad on Saturday.

Baqouba offensive begins
U.S. and Iraqi forces began an offensive operation in Baqouba, the capital of Diyala province about 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, where fierce fighting has raged for a week between Sunni insurgents and police, the U.S. command said.

At least 36 suspected militants were detained during one pre-dawn raid in Baqouba, police said. Later in the day, state-run Iraqiya television said one al-Qaida in Iraq insurgent was killed and 43 detained, including two foreigners.

But attacks by suspected insurgents continued outside Baqouba. Drive-by shootings in two nearby towns killed two civilians and wounded five, police said, speaking on condition of anonymity out of concern for their own security.

Saturday's operation in Baqouba was launched two days after the U.S. military said the city was fully operational, despite media reports that heavy fighting had cleared its streets of cars and pedestrians.

The U.S. command's statement said government offices, mosques and stores were open in the city, with Iraqi police and soldiers manning 11 checkpoints across the provincial capital. However, the military acknowledged insurgents had leveled a police station and forced officers to flee.

Truck slams into bus stop, kills 20
Elsewhere, a truck driving at high speed slammed into a bus stop in al-Wahada, 22 miles south of Baghdad, killing about 20 people waiting for buses to the capital and wounding 15, police said.

Police Lt. Muhammed Al-Shemari said the crash did not appear to be accidental because the truck, an empty fuel tanker, had no obvious mechanical problems.

The driver fled the overturned truck but was caught by witnesses and turned over to police, Al-Shemari said. Other witnesses found a body in the vehicle's cabin, he said.

Another police officer said the driver blamed brake failure. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the probe.

Scores of people are killed each week in Iraq by roadside bombs and car bombs, but there have been few reports of attacks during which a driver has plowed into a crowd in a vehicle without explosives hidden inside.

Farther to the south, U.S. forces killed an insurgent who was caught planting a roadside bomb on a major highway about 40 miles south of Baghdad, said police Capt. Muthanna Khalid said.

A roadside bomb also hit a police patrol in Youssifiyah, 12 miles south of Iraq's capital, killing one policeman and wounding six, police 1st Lt. Mohammed Kheyoun said.

Attack outside hospital
In Baghdad, gunmen attacked the main gate of Yarmouk Hospital, killing one policeman and wounding there, and the bodies of 12 people who had been handcuffed and shot to death were found, police said.

A U.S. Army soldier also was killed in fighting in the volatile Anbar province on Friday, the military said, raising to at least 2,887 the number of service members who have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003.

In Jordan, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, a senior Iraqi Shiite leader who is to meet with President Bush in Washington on Monday, said he opposes a proposed international conference on Iraq.

Al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI, said Iraq's conflict is "political," not sectarian, and he disagreed with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's suggestion last week that such a conference could be useful if the political parties involved met outside Iraq.

In Doha, Qatar, where the Iraqi athletes were competing at the 15th Asian Games, International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge appealed for the release of Iraqi Olympic officials who were kidnapped in Iraq in July.