Suicide car bomber kills 13 in Iraq's Najaf

NAJAF, Iraq (Reuters) - A suicide car bomb exploded at a police checkpoint near a busy market in the holy Shi’ite city of Najaf on Wednesday, killing 13 people, and wounding 35 more, a police spokesman said.

Captain Hadi al-Najafi, an explosives expert, said police had been searching the bomber’s car when it exploded. He said four policemen and two women were among the dead.

The bodies of a woman and a young child lay near the mangled wreckage of the car. The charred corpse of the bomber was nearby.

With a few major exceptions, Najaf, home to Iraq’s most senior cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has been spared much of the violence rocking Baghdad and other areas where Shi’ites, Sunni Arabs and ethnic Kurds live side by side.

The U.S. military transferred Najaf province to Iraqi forces last December, though the move was largely symbolic as it had been largely under Iraqi control for some time because of religious sensitivities.

The holy city is home to the shrine of Imam Ali, whose death in the 7th century caused the great schism in Islam between Shi’ites and Sunnis.

U.S. and Iraqi forces have launched a major security crackdown in Baghdad aimed at stemming bloodshed in the capital which has been the epicenter of sectarian violence.

With the focus on Baghdad, there has been speculation that militants could move out of the city and target other areas where security is not so tight.