Continued violence claimed the lives of four American soldiers today, the military said.
They were killed when a roadside bomb exploded in the northern city of Samarra this morning. No other details were made available.
Today’s violence follows a deadly day in which three car bombs exploded in quick succession in and around a crowded bus station in Baghdad, killing at least 43 people, wounding 88 and paralyzing one of Iraq’s most important transportation networks.
The assault, the deadliest in a month, took place at the height of morning rush hour Wednesday at Iraq’s equivalent of the Port Authority bus terminal in Manhattan.
It appeared to be aimed at Shiite Arabs boarding buses and shared taxis bound for cities in the south, and further inflamed sectarian tensions. The attack also underscored the Sunni-led insurgency’s ability to strike, seemingly with ease, at some of the most important infrastructure.
The bombings coincided with the formal resumption of negotiations over the new constitution, which is now due by Monday, after the Parliament voted for a one-week extension of the deadline. The three major ethnic and sectarian groups in Iraq – the Sunni Arabs, Shiite Arabs and Kurds – remain deadlocked on fundamental issues that will shape the future, particularly the right to carve out autonomous regions. The Bush administration is putting enormous pressure on Iraqi leaders to complete a draft this week.
The explosions on Wednesday began at 7:50 a.m., sending body parts and debris flying across the Nahda bus terminal in central Baghdad. Horrified survivors rushed in a wailing frenzy from the vast open-air lot. The Iraqi police quickly shut down the area and began moving through the charred hulks of buses, sifting through items that included a baby’s milk bottle and bloody tatters of clothing.
“There were a lot of bodies, a lot of smoke,” said Faraj Lilo Anad, 37, the police officer in charge of security at the terminal. “When the explosion happened, I could feel myself flying. Then I landed on the ground. I said, ‘Thank God I’m still alive.’ ”
By noon, the morgue of a nearby hospital was overflowing with bodies, and new ones had to be stacked outside in the 120-degree heat.
Because air travel is limited and expensive, many Iraqis use public buses to move around the country. Until now, there have been few attacks on the network, even though terrorists in Israel and Britain have carried out bus bombings. The buses at Nahda go to cities in the Kurdish north and Shiite-dominated south, while buses running to western Iraq, the heartland of the Sunni Arab insurgency, depart from a different station.
The first bomb was packed into a car that had been parked in the corner of the station where many Shiites congregate to catch buses south, Mr. Anad said. The second car bomb exploded 10 minutes later right outside the terminal, as police and emergency workers were rushing to the scene. The third car bomb detonated at 8:45 a.m. by Al Kindi Hospital, where many of the victims from the first attacks were being taken, said the United States Army’s Third Infantry Division, which is charged with controlling Baghdad.
“When the first bombing happened, other cars here started exploding one by one,” said Amar Thajil Mansour, 23, a worker in a clothing store outside the station. “There was yelling and crying from women and children running to safety. Most of the people here are Shiites. They’re trying to kill Shiites.”
A poster of Moktada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric, hung in the devastated corner of the bus station, near where the owner of a falafel stand had been shredded by flying shrapnel.
The coordinated attack killed more people than any since July 16, when a suicide bomber blew up a fuel truck next to a Shiite mosque in Musayyib, 40 miles south of Baghdad. That incident ignited outrage among many Shiites and even prompted a rare denunciation from Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most revered Shiite cleric in Iraq. A senior Shiite politician said at the time that the ayatollah had urged the government to take steps to prevent “mass annihilation.”
Violence flared Wednesday elsewhere in Iraq.
Insurgents killed six Iraqi soldiers driving to Kirkuk, in the north, a police official said. The soldiers were returning from a training camp and had been assigned to protect an oil pipeline that is frequently attacked.
The American military said one of its soldiers was killed Tuesday by a roadside bomb in southwest Baghdad, and another was killed Monday in a drive-by shooting in Mosul, in the north.
The military also said some Iraqi civilians were killed or injured when American forces attacked suspected insurgents from the air in Baghdad early Tuesday. In the battle, American helicopters “tracked and engaged the terrorists,” the military said in a statement, and an investigation is under way.
The office of President Jalal Talabani announced Wednesday that Mr. Talabani had authorized one of his vice presidents, Adel Abdul Mehdi, to approve the death sentence for three men convicted of dozens of rapes, kidnappings and killings in Kut, in the south. In the past, Mr. Talabani joined lawyers from other countries in denouncing the death penalty. Executions carry enormous emotional weight in Iraq, because Saddam Hussein’s government used them indiscriminately to get rid of its enemies.
Mr. Talabani appeared at a news conference on Wednesday afternoon with Gen. Richard B. Myers, the chairman of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff. The general said he had spoken with both Mr. Talabani and Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the prime minister, about finishing the constitution. “I’ve been assured by both the president and prime minister that they are making progress,” he said.
Mr. Talabani thanked the general for American sacrifices in Iraq but did not mention the constitution.
Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the senior American commander in Iraq, said in an interview that he was still considering increasing the number of American forces here in advance of national elections in December.
With the insurgency showing little sign of abating, the Bush administration is pinning its hopes for stability in Iraq on the political process. American officials say Iraqi leaders must stick to the timetable of holding a national referendum on a new constitution by Oct. 15 and elections for a full-term government by Dec. 15, even though the Parliament missed the initial deadline of Aug. 15 for approving a draft of the constitution. With five days now to go, the top political leaders still appeared staunchly at odds on major issues like regional autonomy, the legal role of Islam and the authority of Shiite ayatollahs.
The Iraqi Islamic Party, a powerful Sunni Arab group, said in a written statement on Wednesday that politicians were “wasting time in useless discussions,” and that Kurds and Shiite Arabs on the 71-member constitutional committee were trying to distract Sunni Arabs from more important issues by lobbying for regional autonomy.
Nowhere was the precariousness of Iraq more evident than at Al Kindi Hospital in the aftermath of the explosions. A woman searched through bodies at the morgue, yelling, “Where is my son?” In a hospital bed, a thin man writhed in pain, his left leg encrusted with dirt and blood.
“I was in the street when I heard the first explosion at the bus station,” said the man, Ahsan Sadiq, 30, a worker at a Housing Ministry office. “Then I felt another explosion, and I woke up inside this hospital.”
A doctor in the room turned to a visitor and said, quietly, that Mr. Sadiq might need to have his leg amputated.