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Blast in Crowded Market Kills 30 in Southern Iraq

Iraqis examine wreckage after a car bomb exploded in Batha, a town 20 miles west of the provincial capital of Nasiriyah. Dozens of people were wounded.
Iraqis examine wreckage after a car bomb exploded in Batha, a town 20 miles west of the provincial capital of Nasiriyah. Dozens of people were wounded. (By Nabil Al-jourani -- Associated Press)
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Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, June 11, 2009

BAGHDAD, June 10 -- A car bomb tore through a crowded market Wednesday in a part of southern Iraq that has been relatively peaceful, killing 30 people, wounding dozens and prompting protests by residents angry that police had failed to protect them.

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The attack took place in Batha, a town 20 miles west of the provincial capital of Nasiriyah, along the Euphrates River. Police said the bomb detonated at 8 a.m., when the town's commercial area was filled with shoppers.

"It felt as if there was an earthquake beneath me," said Abu Sara, a 35-year-old car dealer recovering at a hospital in Nasiriyah.

He and others described a scene sadly familiar in the aftermath of bombings that, though less frequent, still kill scores of people each month in Iraq. Body parts mingled with onions, potatoes and eggplant lying in pools of blood. Fires burned afterward, near the charred carcass of the black car that delivered the explosives. A numbed silence that ensued was broken by the moans of the dying.

"We have done nothing to anyone!" shouted a woman who identified herself as Um Mohammed. She said her husband was killed in the blast. Next to her, her son banged his head on a wall. "Why would this happen to us?" she asked.

Survivors at the hospital said a man in civilian clothes had parked the car, which bore a license plate from the southernmost city of Basra. Unlike most residents, dressed in traditional clothes, he stood out in his Western-style shirt and pants, said Aqil Mohammed, a 21-year-old grocer whose store was near the site of the blast.

Ten minutes later, he said, the bomb detonated.

In the chaotic aftermath, residents grew angry at police for failing to stop the attack. Scuffles broke out, and police fired in the air before arresting dozens of residents, townspeople said. Pictures taken by local journalists showed police and soldiers training their guns on crowds surging toward them.

The provincial governor announced that he had fired the police chief.

Doctors reported being overwhelmed by the influx of casualties. Given the distance to the hospital -- a half-hour drive or more -- some complained that the wounded were dying en route.

"Four people died in my arms," said Aqeel al-Yaacoubi, a surgeon there.

Special correspondents Abbas Salih in Nasiriyah and Saad Sarhan in Najaf contributed to this report.

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