A car bomb killed 22 people Thursday in a bus station in western Baghdad, and police said 20 beheaded bodies had been discovered on the banks of the Tigris River southeast the capital. Government security officials raised doubts about the decapitation report.
The car bomb ripped through a crowded transport hub in southwest Baghdad’s Baiyaa neighborhood at morning rush hour, killing at least 22 people and wounding more than 50, police said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized the release the information.
Many of the victims had been lining up for bus rides to work. Some 40 minibuses were incinerated, police said.
Baiyaa is a mixed area with a Shiite majority. It is one of a string of neighborhoods just south of the main road to Baghdad International Airport where sectarian tensions have been running high.
APTN video showed a square strewn with smoldering car parts and charred bodies with clothes in tatters. Bystanders, some weeping, gingerly loaded human remains into ambulances.
A pickup truck rumbled slowly away from the scene, with two pairs of legs — the dead bodies of victims — dangling out of the back.
To the south, two policemen from separate commands said the 20 decapitated remains were found near the Sunni Muslim village of Um al-Abeed, near the city of Salman Pak, which lies 14 miles southeast of Baghdad.
No decapitation report?
The bodies — all men aged 20 to 40 — had their hands and legs bound, and some of the heads were found next to the bodies, the two officers said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.
One of the police officers who gave information is based at Interior Ministry headquarters in the capital, and the other is based in Kut, 100 miles southeast of Baghdad.
However, an official in Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s office said no such report had been received. He also spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not supposed to talk to media.
Al-Maliki’s office normally would be informed of incidents of serious violence and some reports of attacks in the past have proven false.
Another police officer in eastern Baghdad said officials had heard the report and tried to send a force to the area to confirm it. But the visit was called off because the area was too dangerous.
Sporadic clashes had been under way in the Salman Pak area for several days, between Interior Ministry commandos and suspected insurgents, the Kut officer said. It was unclear whether the discovery of the bodies was related to the recent fighting.
New U.S. focus
Salman Pak and its surrounding area has been the focus of new U.S. military operations to oust suspected al-Qaida fighters from the Baghdad’s outskirts. American forces launched a drive into Salman Pak and neighboring Arab Jabour two weeks ago.
At the time, ground forces commander Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno said U.S. troops were heading into those areas in force for the first time in three years.
One U.S. soldier was killed and another was wounded by a roadside bomb Thursday during a combat patrol in eastern Baghdad, the military said.
At least 3,569 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. The figure includes seven military civilians. At least 2,930 died as a result of hostile action, according to the military’s numbers.
In other violence Thursday, three mortar rounds slammed into a popular shopping district in central Baghdad, killing three pedestrians, police said. The attack damaged shops in the Shorja market area and wounded 14 people, an officer said on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to talk to media.
Mortars also fell early Thursday in eastern Baghdad’s al-Amin neighborhood, killing two civilians and wounding four others, police said.
It was unclear whether the mortars were aimed at the Shorja shopping area, or whether they fell short of an intended target. In recent months, tall security barriers have been built around popular marketplaces in Baghdad, preventing car bombers from entering. However, mortars can be lobbed over such blast walls.
Later Thursday, at least one mortar or rocket targeted the U.S.-guarded Green Zone, sending a huge blast echoing across central Baghdad. There was no immediate word on any casualties.
A car bomb exploded at a fuel station Thursday afternoon in western Baghdad’s Mansour neighborhood, killing one person and wounding three others, police said. The victims had been lining up to buy fuel, they said.
In Nasiriyah, about 200 miles southeast of Baghdad, local police said two suspected militants were killed early Thursday when the bomb they were planting near a house of a U.S. translator detonated prematurely.
British to withdraw more troops
Also Thursday, the British military said three British soldiers were killed in a roadside bomb in southern Iraq.
The bomb exploded near the soldiers’ vehicle late Wednesday southeast of Basra, Iraq’s second-largest city, the military said in a statement. Another soldier was wounded in the blast and remains in stable condition at a military hospital, it said.
The death raised to at least 154 the number of British troops killed in Iraq since the war began in March 2003.
Britain has withdrawn hundreds of troops from Iraq, leaving a force of around 5,500 based mainly on the fringes of Basra, 340 miles southeast of Baghdad. The U.S. currently has about 155,000 troops in Iraq.
On Wednesday, outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair said his country would withdraw even more troops within weeks, but he refused to set a more specific timetable.