BAGHDAD - A car bomb tore through a crowded market yesterday in a remote town in a part of southern Iraq that has been relatively peaceful in past months, officials said. At least 29 people were killed, with dozens more wounded, overwhelming the nearby hospital.
The explosives were packed in a parked car that exploded in the market in Batha, a town 20 miles west of the provincial capital of Nasiriyah. Police said the bomb detonated about 8 a.m., at a time when the town's commercial area was busy with people.
"It felt as if there was an earthquake beneath me," said Abu Sara, 35, a car dealer who was recovering at the Hussein Teaching Hospital in Nasiriyah.
He and others described a scene sadly familiar in the aftermath of bombings that, though less frequent, still kill scores of people each month in Iraq. Body parts mingled with vegetables lying in pools of blood. Fires burned afterward. A numbed silence that ensued was broken by the moans of the dying, who waited for survivors to help them.
In November 2003, a bombing struck the military barracks of Italian forces stationed in Nasiriyah, killing at least 19 Italians. In following years, the area became a battleground for rival Shiite militias. But in recent months, the region around the city has been relatively quiet. If the attack proves to be the work of insurgents, it would again demonstrate their persistent ability to reach anywhere in Iraq, even as security has improved.
Survivors at the hospital said a man in civilian clothes had parked the car, which bore a license plate from the southernmost city of Basra. Unlike most residents, who are usually dressed in traditional clothes, he stood out because he was wearing Western-style clothes, said Aqil Mohammed, 21, a grocer whose store was near the blast.
Ten minutes later, Mohammed said, the bomb detonated.
"The sound was terrifying," he said. "I fainted immediately."
Doctors reported being overwhelmed by the influx of casualties and said the hospital lacked sufficient supplies and staff to treat the wounded. Given the distance of the hospital from the marketplace - a half-hour drive or more - some complained that the wounded were dying en route or losing too much blood to survive.
"Four people died in my arms," said Aqeel al-Yaacoubi, a surgeon at the hospital.
Even for southern Iraq, where security pales before the measures taken in fortified places such as Baghdad, Batha was especially relaxed and, as a result, more vulnerable. Police said they had received a report that three car bombs had been smuggled into Dhi Qar province recently, but most of the resulting precautions were carried out in Nasiriyah.