Dozens Killed in Iraqi Holy City
Bus Station Bombed In Karbala, 200 Yards From Shrine
BAGHDAD, April 14 — A car bomb tore through a packed bus station and marketplace in one of Iraq’s holiest Shiite cities Saturday morning, killing at least 32 people and wounding more than 150, police and hospital officials said.
The vehicle’s driver detonated his explosives at the main entrance of the Karbala bus station about 9:15 a.m., turning stands at an adjacent vegetable market into piles of twisted metal and engulfing nearby vehicles in flames, police said.
Bloody survivors evacuated the wounded and the dead in rickety wooden pushcarts. Charred bodies were laid under blankets in the garden of Imam Hussein General Hospital after its small morgue overflowed, a physician said.
At least 32 people were killed and 158 were wounded, said Khalid Adnan, director of the hospital. Most of the wounded were in critical condition, he said. A police spokesman put the death toll at 41, including many women and children.
Saturday’s blast took place 200 yards from the shrine of Imam Hussein, burial place of the grandson of the prophet Muhammad. It is one of the most sacred sites for Shiite Muslims and a popular destination for many Iraqi and Iranian pilgrims, some of whom were among the dead, officials said.
Hundreds of Shiites were killed as they traveled to and from Karbala during an annual pilgrimage last month. But the city itself, about 60 miles southwest of Baghdad, has rarely been the target of bombings.
After Saturday’s explosion, the scene quickly descended further into chaos as angry survivors attacked police officers and accused them of failing to protect the area, said Aqil al-Khazali, governor of Karbala province. Police fired shots into the air to disperse the crowd, then turned their guns on the people, killing an unknown number of civilians, Khazali said.
Husam al-Moussawi, a media representative for firebrand Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, said that two people were killed by the gunfire and that two police cars were set afire.
Television reports said no police were in the area when the bomb went off. Members of the Mahdi Army, a militia loyal to Sadr, initially helped evacuate bodies and block cars but backed away when authorities arrived, witnesses and Moussawi said.
The situation calmed when Iraqi soldiers arrived, Khazali said. Police imposed an indefinite curfew to prevent more protests and clashes, according to Karbala police spokesman Rahman Imshaher.
“Karbala is not protected by the police; it is only protected by Imam Hussein and God,” said taxi driver Aad Ali, 42, who recounted that he was driving a few blocks from the blast site when the bomb went off. Police frequently stop him but never search his car, he said: “They are not capable of fighting terrorists.”
Imshaher said there are police patrols but no checkpoints in the area of the bus station, so streets are open for pilgrims heading to the shrine. He said police officials in Karbala, a city of about 600,000, recently asked Iraq’s Interior Ministry for more officers. The city has about 9,000 officers on its force and wants at least 4,000 more, he said.
“The people have a right to blame us and feel disappointed,” Imshaher said. “We failed in front of our God and our people. And the reason is that we do not have enough fighters and equipment.”
Abdul Kareem al-Kinani, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said the agency had received no such request. Karbala’s police force is adequate, he said.
Qassim Abdul Sada, who runs a parking lot 400 yards from the bus station, said he feared the blast would devastate local businesses by keeping pilgrims away. “It is a crime to destroy the economy of this safe, stable and quiet city,” he said. “The lapse of the security forces is clear. The lapse is as big as the distance between the earth and the sky.”
In Baghdad, a car bomb exploded on the Jadriyah bridge and killed 10 people but did no serious damage to the structure, police said. It was the second bombing in two days to tar- get a Tigris River span in the capital. Thursday, a car bomb severed the Sarafiya bridge, one of the city’s most beloved landmarks, and killed 11 people.
In Kirkuk, four would-be suicide attackers were killed when an explosives belt worn by one of them inadvertently detonated as they rode in a car, police said.
U.S. soldiers captured 17 suspected terrorists, including a leader of the group al-Qaeda in Iraq, during raids Saturday morning just north of Baghdad, the military said. British forces killed eight suspected insurgents as they planted roadside bombs near the southern city of Basra, the British military said in a statement.
Twenty-one unidentified bodies were found across Iraq on Saturday, police said. Sarhan reported from Najaf. Special correspondent Naseer Nouri in Baghdad contributed to this report.
The bomb detonated at the main bus station in Karbala, near a Shiite shrine that is the burial site of Imam Hussein, grandson of the prophet Muhammad.