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Two suicide bombers kill 93 in Iraq

AP PhotoMohammed Salman, who lost his brother in Monday's car bomb blast, grieves at the scene of the explosion in central Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, March 6, 2007. A suicide car bomber turned a venerable book market into a deadly inferno Monday, killing at least 38 people.
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) — Two suicide bombers blew themselves up Tuesday in a crowd of Shiite pilgrims streaming toward the holy city of Karbala, killing 93 people in one of several attacks targeting the faithful ahead of a weekend holiday.

The attack came a day after U.S. forces suffered their deadliest day in nearly a month – nine American soldiers were killed in explosions north of Baghdad, the military said Tuesday.

The coordinated attack Tuesday happened on a main street in Hillah, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) south of Baghdad, said Capt. Muthana Khalid. He said 93 people were killed and 164 wounded.

An Associated Press cameraman at the scene said the bombers struck a crowd of pilgrims filing into a pedestrian area. Ambulances and Iraqi police were swarming the area and there was no immediate sign of U.S. forces.

U.S. forces continued their push Tuesday into Sadr City, home to 2.5 million of the city’s poorest residents as well as fighters loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Some 600 American soldiers searched the neighborhood’s northwest quadrant, knocking on doors and searching homes, according to an Associated Press reporter traveling with them.

The U.S. forces are seeking a “reconciliatory approach” to avoid a backlash on the streets, said Col. Richard Kim. One group of soldiers were met Tuesday by Iraqi children, offering them ice cream bars.

Six American soldiers died when a bomb exploded Monday near their vehicles during a combat operation in Salahuddin province, the military said. Three others were wounded in the blast. Another three soldiers died the same day in a roadside bomb attack in Diyala province northeast of Baghdad.

Both provinces are Sunni-dominated and have seen a rise in violence since additional U.S. forces surged into Baghdad as part of a security crackdown three weeks ago.

Monday was “a very traumatic day” for U.S. troops in Iraq, said Lt. Col. Michael Donnelly, a spokesman for U.S. forces in northern Iraq.

“Our hearts and prayers are with the families right now in their time of loss, and our resolve is stronger to accomplish our mission here,” Donnelly said.

It was the deadliest day for Americans in Iraq since Feb. 7, when 11 troops were killed – seven when their helicopter was shot down north of Fallujah and four others in combat operations.

The highest daily U.S. death toll since the Iraq war began was Jan. 26, 2005 when 37 Americans died in attacks.

U.S. officials say as violence has fallen in Baghdad, where the joint U.S.-Iraqi security crackdown was in its third week, insurgents have fled the capital for outlying areas, such as those where the soldiers were killed Monday.

Saddam Hussein’s clan hails from Salahuddin, and the late al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was hiding out in Diyala when he was killed by a U.S. airstrike there last summer. Direct attacks on U.S. forces in Diyala are up 70 percent since last July, according to figures provided by the U.S. military.

A suicide car bomber shattered the capital’s relative calm Monday, striking a famous book market in the city’s oldest quarter and killing at least 38 shoppers.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called the bombing “a new message to the world that the terrorists oppose humanity and knowledge.”

The bombing was seen as an effort by Sunni insurgents to bring major bloodshed back into the capital and into the lap of its Shiite-dominated government. The provocation could also erase Washington’s plans for stability during a surge of more than 20,000 additional troops into Baghdad.

At least 24 Iraqis were killed in other violence Tuesday, including eight Shiite pilgrims killed in the south Baghdad neighborhood of Dora when gunmen pumped bullets into a minibus they were riding in.

In past years, Shiite militiamen “played a role in protecting the pilgrims and the attacks were fewer and less effective, but this year things are different,” said Bahaa al-Araji, a Shiite parliament member.

“The government bears some responsibility for this because it has not provided enough security forces to protect the pilgrims,” al-Araji said. “This indicates some shortcomings in the Baghdad security plan.”

Meanwhile, Iraqi army units were preparing to deploy along major routes to ensure pilgrims’ safety, according to a Defense Ministry statement issued Tuesday.

“The Defense Ministry hopes that the citizens will continue the rituals of the pilgrimage safely under efficient security protection,” the statement said.

The nine U.S. deaths Monday brought to 20 the number of Americans killed in Iraq this month. At least 3,184 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 2,561 died as a result of hostile action, according to the military’s numbers.

Associated Press Writer Ryan Lenz with U.S. troops in Baghdad contributed to this report.


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