BAGHDAD, Iraq — Several car bombings at four police facilities in and around Basra killed more than 60 Iraqis and wounded about 100 others Wednesday, Iraqi and British officials said.
Basra, which is usually a quiet region of Iraq, is under the control of British coalition forces.
Four British soldiers were among the wounded, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said.
Straw blamed “insurgents who are trying to disrupt the [June 30] handover of sovereignty to the Iraqi people.”
British Army Capt. H. Halawi said at least four car bombs, believed to be driven by suicide attackers, detonated outside three Iraqi police stations in Basra and a police training facility in Az Zubayr, south of the city.
Basra governorate coordinator Henry Hogger said there may have been a second explosion at Az Zubayr.
The blasts happened shortly after 7 a.m. (11 p.m. Tuesday ET) at the height of morning rush hour in Basra, a senior military source said.
A school bus was caught in one of the blasts, Straw said.
Crowds threw stones at the coalition forces as they were trying to reach the sites of the blasts, a British military source told CNN.
Halawi said calm seemed to have returned to Basra as British forces and Iraqi police began their investigation.
Coalition authorities in southern Iraq issued a statement, denouncing the attack.
“On behalf of the Coalition Provision Authority, we wish to express deep shock and revulsion at the murderous attacks on Iraqi police forces this morning and the loss of so many innocent Iraqi lives,” said a statement from Hogger and regional coordinator Patrick Nixon.
Violence broke out in the restive city of Fallujah Wednesday morning, according to a statement released by the U.S. Marine Corps.
The renewed fighting between Marines and insurgents there threatened to derail recent peace initiatives by Iraqi and coalition officials.
About 40 to 50 insurgents attacked Marine forces around 6:30 a.m. in northwest Fallujah with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades, the statement said. The engagement continued for more than two hours.
Three Marines were wounded, two of them evacuated, according to the Marine statement.
Iraqis and coalition officials have been working to stabilize Fallujah, and U.S. authorities said Tuesday that time is running short for a peaceful solution.
Coalition Provisional Authority spokesman Dan Senor said key demands sought by the coalition are the handing over by insurgents of illegal heavy weapons and the removal of “foreign fighters, criminals, drug users” and others who are using Fallujah as a base of operations to “engage in violence and terrorist acts.”
A March 31 attack by insurgents that killed four American contractors, whose bodies were mutilated and dragged through the streets, prompted the coalition to send the Marines to Fallujah, about 35 miles west of Baghdad.
Video from Fallujah Wednesday showed U.S. Marines firing at insurgents from rooftops and running through the streets amid heavy gunfire.
Marine helicopter crews reported seeing nine insurgents killed and an unknown number of wounded.
As many as a dozen fighters attacked Marines with rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47s from a house in eastern Fallujah at 6:45 p.m., the Marine statement said. The fighters were identified as the same insurgents that have attacked Marines over the past three days.
The Marines returned fire, killing eight enemy forces and destroying three vehicles, the statement said.
Hours later, a dozen insurgents in two vehicles approached the Fallujah Liaison Team Building, exited the vehicles and opened fire on the site, the statement said. Army military police, in cooperation with Marines, returned fire before they fled. No casualties were reported, and the insurgents escaped.
Salem Chalabi, the nephew of the head the Iraqi National Congress, was named to head the tribunal of judges and prosecutors to try toppled Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, who remains in coalition captivity, according to council spokesman Entefadh Qanbar. (Full story)
U.S. troops remain massed on the outskirts of the holy Shiite city of Najaf, which remains under the control of wanted Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mehdi Army militia. Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said “there’s a swap-out of forces going on now” in the Najaf region, saying “the Spanish are leaving and other coalition forces are moving in.” Spain has announced it will withdraw its more than 1,300 troops from Iraq.
On the western outskirts of Baghdad, a mortar attack on an American-run prison killed at least 22 detainees and wounded 92 people Tuesday, the U.S. Army said. Twelve mortars struck the the Baghdad Confinement Facility, which holds about 4,400 detainees, according to the U.S.-led Coalition Press Information Center.
Also Tuesday, Texas-based Halliburton Co. identified three of four bodies found on April 13 as American contractors who were ambushed in an April 9 raid on a fuel convoy near Baghdad. A statement from Halliburton — parent company of the contractors’ employer, Kellogg, Brown & Root — identified the men as Stephen Hulett, 48, of Manistee, Michigan; Jack Montague, 52, of Pittsburg, Illinois; and Jeffery Parker, 45, of Lake Charles, Louisiana. Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt indicated Monday that the fourth person is not an American.
Thomas Hamill, a KBR worker from Macon, Mississippi, shown on video footage held hostage by insurgents, is unaccounted for, along with three other KBR employees — none of whom have been publicly identified. Also missing since the convoy attack are Sgt. Elmer Krause, 40, of Greensboro, North Carolina, and Pfc. Keith Matthew Maupin, 20, of Batavia, Ohio. Arabic-language TV network Al-Jazeera has aired footage of Maupin with armed insurgents, who said they wanted to trade the soldier for prisoners held by the coalition.