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Bomb in Baghdad Market District Kills 24

August 30, 2006

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ A roadside bomb exploded in Baghdad’s oldest and largest wholesale market district, killing at least 24 people and wounding 35, part of a surge in bloodshed Wednesday that left 52 dead, authorities said.

Earlier, an explosives-rigged bicycle blew up near an army recruiting center in a city south of Baghdad, killing at least 12 people.

Violence across Iraq has spiked in recent days, with more than 200 people killed since Sunday in clashes, bombings or shootings _ despite U.S. and Iraqi officials’ claims that a new security operation in the capital has lowered Sunni-Shiite killings there, which had risen in June and July.

A U.S. Marine from the 1st Brigade of the 1st Armored Division was also killed in action Tuesday in Anbar province, the U.S. command said.

The market bomb in Baghdad targeted the Shurja district, where wholesalers use warehouses, stalls and shops to sell food, clothing and house products to other dealers and shoppers. A maze of streets and stalls, it hosts one of Iraq’s biggest markets and is usually teeming with vendors selling everything from spices to satellite dishes.

Elsewhere in Baghdad, a Justice Ministry official, Nadiya Mohammed Hassan, was shot and killed along with her driver and bodyguard by gunmen who stopped her car. Three carpet merchants were also killed while being driven to an appointment in a taxi, police said.

A family of five was killed in Buhriz, 35 miles north of Baghdad, when a roadside bomb struck their car.

In the town of Hillah, about 60 miles south of Baghdad, a man posing as a potential army cadet planted the bicycle outside the recruiting center. The bomb exploded as volunteers gathered outside to sign up for the army. Hillah was the site of one of the worst bomb attacks in Iraq, when a suicide car bomber in February 2005 killed 125 national guard and police recruits waiting to take physicals.

Insurgents have often targeted army and police volunteers as they wait outside recruiting stations, as a way to discourage people from joining the security services.

In downtown Baghdad, three police officers were killed and 14 people were injured when twin bombs _ including one planted in a car _ struck a police patrol as it drove by a line of vehicles waiting in a line for gasoline at a filling station.

An explosion Tuesday at an oil pipeline near the city of Diwaniyah, south of Baghdad, caused a massive fire that left at least 36 people dead and 45 injured, the Interior Ministry said. The city’s health directorate said another 40 people were still missing.

Dr. Mohammed Abdul-Mussin of the health directorate said the relatives of the 40 missing people gathered outside the directorate’s offices demanding death certificates. But he said they could not be confirmed as dead since their bodies had not been found.

The pipeline was located six miles south of Diwaniyah, the scene of fierce clashes between the Iraqi army and Shiite militia on Monday that left 73 people dead.

The cause of the blast was not clear, but police Lt. Raid Jabir said several people had been siphoning fuel from the pipeline at the time. Iraqis have faced severe fuel shortages since Saddam Hussein’s 2003 ouster. Insurgents also have frequently targeted pipelines and oil refineries.

The violence has included some of the fiercest fighting in months between the Iraqi army and Shiite militiamen loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in Diwaniyah, 50 miles south of the capital.

Monday’s fighting was significant because it pitted mostly Shiite Iraqi soldiers against the militia of one of the country’s most prominent Shiite leaders. It also illustrates the complexity of the security crisis in Iraq _ with Sunni insurgents fighting U.S. troops in the west, Sunnis and Shiites killing one another in Baghdad and now Shiites battling Shiites in the south.

Al-Sadr led two uprisings against U.S. forces in 2004 but has since emerged as a major political figure, controlling 30 of the 275 seats in parliament and five Cabinet posts. On Monday, U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell said the murder rate in Baghdad had fallen by 46 percent from July to August and ``we are actually seeing progress out there.″

That figure could not be independently confirmed. But an employee of the main Baghdad city morgue, Muyaid Matrood, said that as of Monday, his office had received 337 bodies of people who had died violently this month, excluding bombing victims.

U.S. officials attributed the fall in sectarian killings to a major security crackdown launched in Baghdad Aug. 7. About 8,000 U.S. troops and 3,000 Iraqi soldiers were sent to the capital to search homes systematically and patrol the streets.

Similar operations in Baghdad and elsewhere have curbed violence for limited periods of time in the past, only to have killings flare again once U.S. forces left the area.

In other violence Wednesday, according to police:

_ An Iraqi army major was killed in Kut, 100 miles southeast of Baghdad, by a roadside bomb.

_ A civilian driving in his car in northern Mosul was apparently shot and killed by American troops who opened fire when the man’s vehicle came too close to them.

_ Five bullet-riddled bodies turned up in Suwayrah, 25 miles south of Baghdad.

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Associated Press reporters Qais al-Bashir, Sinan Salaheddin, Elena Becatoros and Patrick Quinn contributed to this report from Baghdad.

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