AMARA: Three car bombs ripped through a busy market in the city of Amara yesterday, killing 40 people and wounding 125 in one of the deadliest attacks in southern Iraq this year.
The explosions in Amara were five minutes apart, beginning with a small blast at the entrance to the market at 10:30am local time, said provincial council spokesman Mohammed Saleh.
Saleh said bystanders gathered to look at the aftermath of that blast, which wounded just a few people, when a second car bomb exploded. The third car blew up nearby as the crowd began to flee, he said.
The market in Amara was a scene of chaos, with cars torn apart. A blocked gutter along one street was red with blood washed from pools on the pavement next to a child's shoes.
Officials said a curfew had been imposed in Amara. They said an undisclosed number of suspects had been detained.
Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki called the bombings a "desperate attempt" to draw attention away from recent security gains across Iraq.
State television said the provincial police chief had been sacked.
The co-ordinated attacks came just days before Britain is to complete the handover of security for the four southern provinces it has controlled since 2003.
Amara, 365km southeast of Baghdad, has no foreign troops after Britain handed over responsibility for security in the province to Iraqi forces in April, part of a plan to pull British troops off the streets by year-end.
Iraqi government spokesman Ali Al Dabbagh said the last stage of that plan would go ahead in four days despite the blasts, with Iraqi forces taking control of neighbouring Basra province, source of nearly all of Iraq's oil export revenue.
"(The bombing) has nothing to do with Basra. The handover will go ahead on December 16. The quality of the forces in Basra is excellent," he said.
Hours after the Amara bombings, a suicide bomber blew up his explosives-rigged car on a bridge connecting villages with the town of Hit in the western province of Anbar, killing five people.