, NASIRIYAH, Jun 10 – A car bomb exploded in a market in a southern Iraqi town on Wednesday, killing 30 people including women and children in the bloodiest attack to hit the country in weeks.
Seventy people were also wounded in the bombing in Batha in Dhiqar province, a statement on the province’s official website said, while hospital sources said dozens were receiving treatment in the regional capital Nasiriyah.
Although bombings remain common in the capital Baghdad and the restive northern city of Mosul, attacks in Nasiriyah are rare.
The blast came three weeks ahead of the planned June 30 withdrawal of US troops from Iraqi cities and major towns.
"No fewer than 30 bodies were collected, and around 70 others were wounded," a statement on the Dhiqar province website said.
Interior and defence ministry officials based in Baghdad gave a slightly lower toll of 28 dead and 45 wounded from the blast in Batha, which lies west of Nasiriyah.
The number of casualties was the highest in a single attack since May 20, when a powerful car bomb tore through a Baghdad street full of diners, killing 34 people and wounding 72.
Batha town mayor Ali Fahad said "children and women" were among the dead, and that casualties were receiving hospital treatment.
An official at Nasiriyah General Hospital said at least two women and a nine-year-old child were among the dead.
The bombing followed an attack on Tuesday that killed two anti-Qaeda militiamen and wounded their commander in the town of Tarmiyah, north of Baghdad.
In a separate incident in the centre of the former rebel bastion of Fallujah west of Baghdad, five civilians were wounded when a bomb fixed to a parked motorcycle exploded.
Seven people were also killed and dozens wounded in Baghdad on Monday when a sticky bomb planted on a minibus exploded, security officials told AFP.
That attack occurred in the mixed southern district of Dora, which has been hit by a number of attacks in recent weeks.
May saw the fewest Iraqi deaths from violence since the US-led invasion of 2003, with 124 civilians, six soldiers and 25 policemen killed in attacks, according to official figures.
Despite a surge in violence in April, Iraq has insisted that the US pullout timetable, enshrined in a landmark security pact concluded with Washington in November last year, will not be altered.
The US military is scheduled to leave major urban areas by the end of this month in a key step ahead of a complete withdrawal by the end of 2011.
Recent attacks in Baghdad have mainly targeted Iraq’s majority Shiite community, prompting speculation about a return of Al-Qaeda-style attacks aimed at reigniting the sectarianism that swept the country two years ago.
April saw a string of deadly bombings in Shiite and mixed neighbourhoods of Baghdad that were reminiscent of attacks that occurred at the height of Iraq’s sectarian fighting in 2006.
At that time such bombings triggered reprisal attacks in which thousands of mostly Sunni men were abducted, tortured and executed, but the recent wave of bombings has not sparked off sectarian fighting.