Three car bombs, all claimed by al-Qaida in Iraq, rocked Baghdad on Sunday, police sources said.

One attack, at a police checkpoint in the east of the city, killed three people and wounded 14. The second, at a checkpoint in the south, killed one and wounded three. A third, near an election commission headquarters, killed five and wounded seven, the commission said.

Iraq has often experienced several attacks a day since the government took power in April. But US generals had said things were improving, with just six car bombs countrywide last week, the fewest in nearly three months.

But the deadliest attack came on Saturday evening in the small town of al-Musayyib, 60km south of the capital, where at least 71 people were killed and 150 wounded.  

 

Local hospitals were short of
medicines to treat burn victims

A bomber himself up near a tanker truck, setting off a firestorm that torched 20 cars and set shops and buildings ablaze.

 

Many victims were charred beyond recognition.

 

The bombing took place in the evening as hundreds were out enjoying the relative coolness amid the summer heat. It appeared to target a Shia mosque that also houses the local offices of supporters of Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr.

  

Mortar attacks

 

The attack was followed within seconds by a mortar attack on the area.

 

"I was 100 metres away when I saw the fireball. It was enormous... People were burning in their cars. We had to get them out with hooks," said Khodr Abbas, a 24-year-old who works at the local al-Sadr office.

 

"I saw women in the burning houses crying for help and we couldn't do a thing," he said.

 

One of the injured, Ammar al-Karaguili, 40, said he saw desperate parents throwing their children out of windows and from balconies to escape the inferno.

  

Police Lieutenant Hassan Ali said the square was normally closed off to tanker trucks, but he thought this one was let through a road block when the driver said he wanted to turn his vehicle around.

 

"The driver then stopped his truck, got out, opened the tanker's gas valves and blew himself up," Ali said.

 

Pressure 

 

Dozens of corpses were burned
beyond recognition

At the local hospital, which was desperately short of medicine to treat burn victims, an AFP reporter saw dozens of corpses burnt beyond recognition, including many children.

 

The weekend surge in bombings has put the government under new pressure.

Al-Qaida in Iraq, which has urged fighters from the Arab world to join its cause, has said the bombings are part of a new offensive but did not explicitly claim the al-Musayyib attack.

"The operation is continuing as planned and we warn the enemies of God of more to come. We ask our Muslim brothers around the world to pray for God to grant us victory," said an al-Qaida internet statement on Saturday.

Civil war feared

 

The Iraqi parliament called for a minute's silence nationwide on Wednesday to commemorate the al-Musayyib casualties and the 32 victims, most of them children, who died in a Wednesday car bombing in Baghdad.

 

Several MPs warned that the wave of attacks could push the country into civil war.

 

"If religious Sunni leaders and those from the Islamic Party do nothing and refuse to stand together with the Shia, I think with great sadness that a civil war is on the way," said Shia MP Shaikh Jalal al-Saghir.