BAGHDAD – Three car bombs exploded in quick succession in Amarah on Wednesday, killing at least 41 people and injuring 128 in what has been a relatively calm Shiite Muslim city, police and hospital officials said.
The blasts ripped through the main market of a southern Iraqi city where British forces turned over full responsibility for security to the provincial government in April. Within days, Britain is expected to hand over responsibility for neighboring Basra, the last province under its control, raising the specter of escalating bloodshed throughout oil-rich southern Iraq.
The blasts, which occurred within a 15-minute span, blew out shop doors and shattered windows. Shoes, pieces of clothing and torn body parts lay amid the blood.
It was the deadliest attack since August in Iraq, where U.S. officials have reported a 60 percent decline in violent incidents since they completed a 28,500-troop buildup in June. In recent days, though, there has been a spate of bombing attacks across the country that have caused double-digit casualties.
Major bombings have been rare in the overwhelmingly Shiite south, which has been spared the worst of the sectarian clashes that have plagued Baghdad and other parts of the country.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but synchronized bombings are a hallmark of the Sunni militant group al-Qaida in Iraq. U.S. commanders have warned in recent weeks that Sunni extremists forced out of Baghdad and the surrounding area were moving elsewhere and could strike where security was less robust.
Violence also flares periodically between rival Shiite militias vying for political influence in the south and control of the region’s oil wealth. Two southern governors were assassinated over the summer and a number of senior security officials have been slain, including the popular provincial police chief in Babil, who died in a roadside bombing Sunday.
Within hours of the blasts, at least five suspects were detained, and the Interior Ministry announced that it was firing the city police chief. A curfew was imposed, and Iraqi security forces used loudspeakers to warn residents that there could be more car bombs.