String of bombings threatens relative calm in Iraq

BAGHDAD — More than a dozen Iraqis were killed and 43 were wounded Wednesday in back-to-back car bombings at a bus station in a Shiite Muslim neighborhood in south Baghdad, police said.

The bombings were part of bloody day in which at least 22 people died in attacks throughout Iraq, breaking a relative calm that the country has enjoyed in recent months.

The attacks came a little more than a week after Iraq held provincial elections in 14 of its 18 provinces. Election officials are expected to release final results in the coming weeks.

Around 3 p.m. Wednesday, bombs in a parked car and a van detonated in the crowded bus depot in the Bayaa neighborhood, killing 16 civilians and wounding 43 others, police said. The area is a popular shopping destination.

The U.S.-led Multi-National Corps in Iraq put the death toll in a second depot attack at eight dead and 33 injured.

“We heard a big explosion and there was a big cloud of smoke,” said Abo Ali al-Taee, 41, owner of a shop near the market in south Baghdad. “It was raining shrapnel.”

Right after the blast, Taee said, he heard a woman screaming, “I lost my four brothers. I can’t find them!”

Fearing more bombings, Taee fled. When he got home, his neighbor was sobbing. Her sons and a few relatives were among the injured.

“Thank God they were only injured,” Taee said.

Iraqi police and coalition forces responded, cordoning off the bus station and nearby roads. Traffic was backed up into the evening. The wounded were taken to the Yarmouk hospital for treatment.

In other attacks Wednesday in Baghdad and around Iraq:

_A pilgrim was killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad’s wealthy, mixed-sect Karrada neighborhood around 7 a.m., police said. Four others were injured as they set out on foot for their pilgrimage to Karbala for Ashura, a period of mourning for many Shiite Muslims.

_A roadside bomb detonated about 1 p.m. in east Baghdad, killing one civilian and injuring 12 others. Six of the wounded were Karbala-bound pilgrims.

Staffan de Mistura, the U.N. secretary-general’s special representative for Iraq, condemned the targeting of Shiite pilgrims, calling it “a murderous attack which was clearly designed to provoke sectarian tensions.”

_Two policemen were killed and three injured in a separate roadside bombing at noon in Iskandiriyah, 25 miles south of Baghdad.

_In Mosul, a volatile city in northern Iraq that’s rife with Arab-Kurd tensions, one civilian was killed by a roadside bomb. An Iraqi soldier died in another attack _ a suicide car bomb _ that targeted an Iraqi army and U.S. military convoy, Iraqi police said. Five people were wounded, including two soldiers.

Although last week’s elections sparked no major violence, Wednesday’s attacks could foreshadow disruptions as election officials prepare to announce the winners.

Early counting shows the party affiliated with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki did well, taking a plurality of votes in nine of 14 provinces.

Since the Jan. 31 vote, foreign leaders have applauded Iraq for the mostly peaceful election, and they’ve visited to express interest in building relations.

On Tuesday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, in the first visit ever for a French head of state, arrived, urging European allies to invest in Iraq. Maliki welcomed the offer, but he also said Iraq would no longer be bullied by Washington. That appeared to be a rebuke to Vice President Joe Biden, who suggested last week that the administration needs to be more aggressive in bringing reform to Iraq.

The latest guest was Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, who met with Maliki on Wednesday. The two discussed ways to develop industries such as oil, trade and transportation.

“Iraq is an important country in the region,” said Mottaki. “In addition to the strong relations between the two countries, we believe Iraq has the capabilities to ensure it has a regional and international role in the area.”

(c) 2009, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.