* Tensions rise as Shi'ites gather for imam's birthday
* June was one of bloodiest months since U.S. withdrawal
(Adds governor of Diwaniya, details)
By Imad al-Khuzaie
DIWANIYA, Iraq, July 3 Bombs killed at least 44
people at markets in Iraq on Tuesday, and authorities said they
bore the hallmarks of sectarian attacks on Shi'ite Muslims by al
Qaeda Sunni militants.
A bomb in a small truck exploded in a market in the city of
Diwaniya, killing 40 people, and other blasts killed four more
near the city of Kerbala, police and officials said.
The Diwaniya bombing was near a Shi'ite mosque where
pilgrims gather on their way to Kerbala to celebrate the
birthday of one of their most important imams, al-Mahdi, this
Police announced a partial curfew and blocked all entrances
to Diwaniya, 150 km (90 miles) south of Baghdad and 130 km
southeast of Kerbala. Police sources said 75 people had been
"All of a sudden the explosion happened, I felt the power of
the blast, it was so strong, it broke all the glass in my
windows," butcher Ahmed Hassan, 23, said in his shop.
"I smelled blood and gunpowder."
He said a fellow shopkeeper had been taking dead bodies to
the hospital morgue.
"We even saw body parts on the top of building, we took them
down," said Hassan, looking pale and confused as he swept glass
from his shop floor.
Shoes, toys and vegetables were scattered across the ground
and at least 15 shops were destroyed. Two burnt-out vehicles
stood near the site of the explosion. Witnesses said the bomb
appeared to have been planted in a delivery truck.
Earlier in the day, two bombs in a vegetable wholesale
market killed four people and wounded 29 near the central Iraqi
city of Kerbala, hospital and police sources said.
"The bombing happened because of sticky bombs attached to
two parked cars which went off separately," said Hussein
Shadhan, a provincial council member, who was at the hospital.
"Four of the wounded people are seriously injured and their
medical situation is very critical."
Reuters pictures showed pulverised vegetables covering the
blackened market floor. People picked their way through twisted
pieces of metal and smashed wooden crates.
Hospital and police sources said earlier they believed the
attack had also been targeting Shi'ite pilgrims on their way to
"Initial investigations show that today's bombs bear the
fingerprints of al Qaeda terrorist group," Salim Hussain,
governor of Diwaniya, told Iraqiya state television.
Iraq's al Qaeda wing has claimed responsibility for some of
the recent bombings against Shi'ites.
Last month at least 237 people were killed and 603 wounded
in attacks, mainly bombings, according to a Reuters tally,
making June one of the bloodiest months in Iraq since U.S.
troops withdrew at the end of last year.
The deadliest attack occurred on June 13 when bombers
targeting Shi'ite pilgrims killed more than 70 people.
Sunni insurgents often attack Shi'ite targets to try to
reignite sectarian violence that killed tens of thousands of
people in 2006-2007.
(Additional reporting by Suadad al-Salhy, Ali al-Rubaie, Ahmed
Rasheed and Aseel Kami; Writing by Sylvia Westall; Editing by