BAGHDAD (AP) — A suicide bomber detonated an explosives-packed car near a funeral procession in southeastern Baghdad on Friday, killing at least 32 people — half of them policemen who were guarding the march — in the latest brazen attack since the U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq.
Police said the bomb exploded at 11:00 a.m. in the predominantly Shiite neighborhood of Zafaraniyah, where mourners had gathered for the funeral of a person killed the day before. They said 65 people were wounded in the attack, including 16 police.
Hospital officials confirmed the death toll.
Across Iraq, at least 200 people have been killed in a wave of attacks by suspected insurgents since the beginning of the year. Erupting just weeks after completion of the U.S. military withdrawal Dec. 18, it raised concerns that the surge in violence and an escalating political crisis might deteriorate into a civil war.
Most of the dead have been Shiite pilgrims and members of the Iraqi security forces.
A sectarian-based political crisis has added to the concerns of descent into violence.
Salam Hussein, a 42-year-old grocery store owner in Zafaraniyah, said he was watching Friday's funeral procession, which was heavily guarded by police, when the blast blew out his store windows and injured one of his workers.
"It was a huge explosion," Hussein said. As he took his worker to the hospital, Hussein said he saw cars engulfed in flames, "human flesh scattered around and several mutilated bodies in a pool of blood" around the place where the attacker's car exploded.
Officials at the Zafaraniyah General Hospital, where most of the dead and injured were taken, said the powerful blast shattered windows and damaged walls in the hospital, injuring a nurse and four patients who were being treated at the time of the attack.
Zafaraniyah resident Talib Bashir, 50, said he was part of the procession of about 500 men but left the group to take his child home, and then he heard the blast.
"I saw smoke coming from a parked car that exploded," Bashir said, and police and civilians cars, an ambulance and several stores were engulfed in flames hours after the blast. "The fire lasted for a long time," Bashir said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Friday's attack.
Minutes after the explosion, gunmen opened fire at a checkpoint in Zafaraniyah, killing two police officers, according to police officials. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.
Since the United States completed its pullout, militant groups — mainly al-Qaida in Iraq — have stepped up attacks targeting the country's majority Shiites to undermine confidence in the Shiite-led government and its efforts to protect people without American backup.
On Thursday, 17 people were killed in bombings around the country, including seven people in attacks on Baghdad's s two mostly Sunni districts, suggesting that Shiite militants could be retaliating for attacks against them.
Friday's blast was the second deadliest single attack in Iraq this month.
At least 53 people were killed Jan. 14, when a bomb tore through a procession of Shiite pilgrims heading toward a largely Sunni town in southern Iraq.