Iraq car bomb kills 56; Is­lamic State claims credit

Baltimore Sun - - WORLD - By Hadi Mizban and Ali Ab­dul-has­san

HILLA, Iraq — A car bomb tore through a gas sta­tion south of Baghdad on Thurs­day, killing at least 56 peo­ple, in­clud­ing 20 Ira­ni­ans, in an at­tack claimed by the Is­lamic State group.

Po­lice and hos­pi­tal of­fi­cials con­firmed the toll and said an­other 45 peo­ple were wounded in the at­tack, which al­most de­stroyed the gas sta­tion, sev­eral nearby stores and set sev­eral cars on fire. The sta­tion is lo­cated on a ma­jor high­way.

The blast knocked out power at the sta­tion, forc­ing rel­a­tives looking for the re­mains of loved ones to use the glare of their mo­bile phones to guide them. Body parts that re­mained un­claimed were gath­ered in a blue bag and placed on the side­walk out­side the sta­tion. Large sec­tions of the sta­tion were cov­ered in blood.

Iran’s Deputy For­eign Min­is­ter Has­san Qashqavi was quoted by the semiof­fi­cial Tas­nim news agency as say­ing that 80 peo­ple were killed, in­clud­ing 40 Ira­ni­ans. Con­flict­ing death tolls are com­mon in the af­ter­math of large at­tacks.

The Is­lamic State group claimed the at­tack in a brief state­ment car­ried by its Aa­maq news agency, say­ing it was a sui­cide truck bomb.

The Iraqi of­fi­cials said the tar­get of the at­tack ap­pears to have been a bus car­ry­ing Ira­nian pil­grims head­ing home af­ter tak­ing part in a Shi­ite re­li­gious ob­ser­vance in the holy city of Kar­bala. The blast left the bus and some dozen cars charred.

The Shi­ite ob­ser­vance marks the 40th day af­ter the death an­niver­sary of a much revered, 7th-cen­tury imam. It rou­tinely at­tracts hun­dreds of thou­sands of pil­grims, in­clud­ing many Ira­ni­ans who travel over­land into Iraq for the oc­ca­sion.

The of­fi­cials spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity.

Thurs­day’s at­tack came a day af­ter sev­eral smallscale bomb­ings in and around Baghdad killed 31 peo­ple and wounded more than a 100, a par­tic­u­larly bloody day even by the stan­dards of the Iraqi cap­i­tal, which has for more than a decade en­dured near-daily violence blamed on Is­lamic State or its fore­run­ner, al- Qaida in Iraq.

In north­ern Iraq, mean­while, troops drove mil­i­tants from three more neigh­bor­hoods in Mo­sul, the coun­try’s sec­ond-largest city, where a U.S.backed of­fen­sive has been un­der­way for more than six weeks.

Brig. Gen. Haider Fad­hil of the spe­cial forces said his men have re­taken the neigh­bor­hoods of Amn, Qahira and Green Apart­ments and were ex­pand­ing their foothold in the densely pop­u­lated district of Zo­hour.

The neigh­bor­hoods are all east of the Ti­gris River, where most of the fight­ing has taken place. A U.S.-led coali­tion is car­ry­ing out airstrikes to sup­port the troops.

Prime Min­is­ter Haider al-Abadi, mean­while, flew to an airstrip out­side the town of Tal Afar, to the west of Mo­sul on Thurs­day, ac­cord­ing to footage aired by the state-owned Iraqiya tele­vi­sion net­work. The airstrip was seized from the Is­lamic State this week.

HADI MIZBAN/AP

Civil de­fense per­son­nel search for blast sur­vivors in the rub­ble Thurs­day near Hilla, Iraq.

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