BAGHDAD // A car bomb has exploded in a crowded cattle market south of Baghdad, killing at least 12 people and injuring 55 others, Iraqi police and medical officials said. The parked car exploded at the height of the morning buying and selling at the market on the outskirts of Hillah, 95 kilometres south of Baghdad, said Iraqi police's Maj Muthana Khalid. The blast scattered bodies and animal carcasses throughout the market, a witness said.
While violence has declined dramatically in Iraq during the past 18 months, there are growing concerns about a possible upwards trend in bloodshed after a series of high-profile attacks on civilians and US and Iraqi security forces in recent weeks. All the dead and injured in today's bombing were civilians, Maj Khalid said. Dr Hussam al Janabi, a medical official in Hillah, confirmed the casualty figures. Markets, mosques and religious shrines have been a favourite target of insurgents in Iraq because of the possibility of high casualty counts. Dozens of cattle merchants, farmers, butchers and buyers were at the market in Hamza al Gharbi, a mostly Shiite community a short distance from Hillah, when the bomb exploded. The market operates daily but is at its busiest on Thursday and Friday, said cattle merchant Rajab Abdul Hussein. Mohammed Abbas, a butcher, described a grisly scene of bodies and animal carcasses strewn throughout the market in the aftermath of the bombing. "Blood and meat were everywhere," Mr Abbas said. Witnesses told police the blast came from a car parked near the market's main thoroughfare. The Hillah area has been the site of many deadly bombings, including one of the worst attacks in Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion. In February 2005, a suicide car bomber killed 125 national guard and police recruits in Hillah. In March 2007, two suicide bombers struck a crowd of Shiite pilgrims, killing 120. And in February that year, suicide bombers struck a market, killing 73. In Baghdad today, gunmen ambushed an Interior Ministry official on his way to work, said an Iraqi police official.