BAGHDAD - A car bomb ripped through a crowded market in southern Iraq on Wednesday, killing at least 33 people and prompting angry protests by residents about the failure to protect them, officials and witnesses said.
Police swiftly locked down Al-Bathaa, a Shi’ite Muslim town 30 km west of Nassariya that has seen little violence, while hospital officials appealed for help from neighbouring cities to cope with the wounded.
Colonel Aziz Al-Atabi, media director for the Iraqi army’s 10th division, said 33 people were killed and 70 wounded. The governor of Nassariya blamed the attack on Al-Qaeda.
Pictures posted online by local journalists showed the charred wreck of a car the bomb was planted in, burnt body parts and bloodstained rags among vegetables strewn on the floor.
High school teacher Hussein Salim said the market was supposed to be guarded by the police.
He said he rushed to the scene and helped gather body parts, some of which had been blown onto the roof of nearby homes.
“How could the car enter the market? It was crowded with people ... The police neglected their job,” he said.
“I saw five children and six women among the dead.”
Salim said angry locals protested when the area’s police chief and Talib Al-Hassan, the Nassariya governor, arrived on the scene, prompting the governor’s bodyguards to open fire.
Al-Hassan said they had only fired in the air.
“As the explosion was big, some people gathered at the scene to watch or look for their loved ones.
“The security forces shot in the air to disperse them and save their lives,” he said.
“We accuse Al-Qaeda. The area is open and there are many roads leading to it. We have little clues about the accused. The security forces are working to get precise information.”
Al-Hassan gave a lower toll of 19 killed and 65 wounded, and said he had replaced the Al-Bathaa police chief.
US military helicopters hovered overhead after the blast. The sectarian bloodshed and insurgency unleashed by the 2003 US-led invasion has fallen sharply across Iraq since its peak in 2006/07, and the Shi’ite Muslim south has tended to be one of the quietest areas. But insurgents, including Al-Qaeda, continue to carry out devastating car and suicide bomb attacks.
Analysts say violence is likely to rise ahead of parliamentary elections next January, which will pit not just Shi’ite parties against once dominant Sunnis and minority Kurds, but also against rival Shi’ite groups. – Reuters