NAJAF: As many as 15 people were killed and dozens more were wounded on Thursday when three bombs exploded simultaneously in a rare attack in the Shia Muslim shrine city of Najaf, officials said.
A car bomb was detonated near a mosque and two other bombs blew up in a retail market as darkness fell in the city, 150 kilometres (90 miles) south of Baghdad, according to a security official.
Accounts of the number of casualties varied, but an interior ministry official in the capital said 15 people were killed and 25 wounded.
A local government official in Najaf, however, told AFP that three people were killed and 80 injured, 15 of whom were in serious condition.
“At 5:30 pm (1430 GMT), three bombs exploded at the same time close to a large market at Jumla, targeting the innocent, passers-by and traders,” a local government official said.
Najaf is home to the mausoleum of Imam Ali, the son-in-law and cousin of the Prophet Mohammed, and attracts Shias from around the world, especially neighbouring Iran.
“The explosions resulted in tens of victims,” a medical official said.
An AFP correspondent in the city said Iraqi security forces deployed in large numbers after the bombings, with routes into the city sealed off.
The leader of Najaf’s provincial council said a third of those wounded — he did not give a toll — were members of the security forces, and blamed the attacks on Baathists loyal to toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.
“We will take very severe measures against the Baathists,” said Fahad al-Shammari. “I urge them to leave the city tonight.”
While attacks in Iraq remain common, especially in Baghdad and the northern cities of Mosul and Kirkuk, violence in Najaf has become rare.
The last major attack in Najaf dates back to February 2007 when a suicide car bomber struck an Iraqi police checkpoint, killing 13 people and wounding dozens more.
Violence in Iraq dropped dramatically in 2009 to its lowest level since the US-led invasion of 2003, figures showed on January 1, but a monitoring group warned that security gains were levelling off.
According to an AFP tally of statistics released by the defence, interior and health ministries, a total of 2,800 civilians were killed by violence last year, less than half of 2008’s toll of 5,886.
The toll was markedly lower, however, than one compiled by Iraq Body Count (IBC), an independent Britain-based group, which put the number of civilians dead in 2009 at 4,497.
Despite the disparity, IBC’s toll was also dramatically lower than its 2008 figures, it said in its annual report.
IBC noted that while there had been “significant improvements” in security in 2009, “such violence still afflicts Iraq’s population more than any other.”
And the second half of 2009 saw around the same number of civilian deaths as the first, which IBC warned “may indicate that the situation is no longer improving.”
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has promoted himself as having improved security across Iraq, and aims to retain his post after a general election due on March 7.