BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A huge truck bomb killed more than 100 people and wounded 250 in a crowded market in northern Iraq on Saturday, one of the deadliest attacks in the country this year, police said.
Colonel Abbas Mohammed Amin, the police chief in Tuz Khurmato, said he feared the toll would rise after the bomb leveled dozens of shops and small houses.
“There are still bodies under rubble. We are trying to dig them out,” Amin told Reuters, putting the death toll at more than 100. Other police in the town said 105 people were killed.
There had earlier been conflicting reports about the toll in Tuz Khurmato, a largely Shi’ite town, with other police and local officials saying 30 people had been killed.
The bombing was a blow to a U.S.-backed security crackdown in Iraq, and underscored the ability of militants to stage large-scale attacks despite the arrival of nearly 30,000 additional U.S. troops.
U.S. officials blame most major car bombings on Sunni Islamist al Qaeda, which they say is trying to spark full-scale civil war between majority Shi’ites and minority Sunni Arabs.
Jasim Ali, 30, said he looked frantically for his wife when he heard the explosion in Tuz Khurmato.
“I ran to the market and saw burned cars along with dead and wounded people everywhere. I screamed until I found my wife. She was wounded in the head and her hand,” said Ali, his clothes stained with his wife’s blood.
In other violence, the U.S. military reported eight of its soldiers were killed in the past two days, mostly in and around Baghdad.
Growing U.S. casualties have put U.S. President George W. Bush under increasing pressure from opposition Democrats and from some senior figures in his own Republican Party to justify his strategy of ordering more troops to Iraq.
There are now 157,000 U.S. military personnel in Iraq.
A suicide car bomber killed six people including five Iraqi soldiers on Saturday when he drove into a military checkpoint in east Baghdad, an army spokesman said. The attack wounded 24 people, including 18 soldiers.
Late on Friday, a suicide car bomber killed 22 people and wounded 17 when he drove his vehicle into a group of Shi’ite Kurds near Iraq’s border with Iran. The victims were returning from a funeral, a local official said.
One British soldier was killed in the southern city of Basra in fierce fighting with militants overnight, during raids involving 1,000 troops which a military spokesman described as the biggest British operation in Iraq this year.
Additional reporting by Mariam Karouny, Alister Bull, Mussab Al-Khairalla and Waleed Ibrahim