A booby-trapped motorcycle loaded with nails and ball-bearings exploded in a crowded bazaar in Baghdad, killing at least 15 people, Iraqi officials said. It was the latest in a week of attacks that have killed some 200 people ahead of next week's deadline for US troops to withdraw from urban areas in Iraq. The explosion occurred just after 9am when the market was packed with young people buying or selling motorcycles under the shadow of a Sunni mosque in central Baghdad, police and hospital officials said.
Nobody claimed responsibility for the attack, but insurgents frequently target crowded market districts to try to maximise casualties. The motorcycle bazaar is only open on Fridays. The market has been hit by several bombings in the past, but Iraqis have resumed flocking to the area because of security gains that have sharply driven down the level of violence. Police and hospital officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to release the information, gave the death toll and said more than 40 people also were wounded. The escalation in violence is undermining the prime minister Nouri al-Maliki's declaration of a "great victory" in the US pullout from urban areas by Tuesday's deadline. He has declared June 30 a national holiday to be marked with celebrations. US and Iraqi officials have warned they expect more violence in the days surrounding the deadline but insist the withdrawal will go ahead as scheduled.
Under a security pact, the Americans must pull back from cities by June 30 and from the entire country by the end of 2011. But the continued violence has raised concerns about the readiness of Iraqi security forces to protect the people. *AP