Car bomb kills five in attack outside Baghdad hospital

As people flocked Saturday to a hospital in a Shiite Muslim district of the capital to visit loved ones injured in recent attacks, a car bomb tore through the crowd of well-wishers, killing five people and wounding two dozen others.
Bombings concentrated in Shiite neighborhoods and towns have killed hundreds of people across Iraq over the past week, including the single deadliest bombing of the four-year-old war.

U.S. and Iraqi officials believe insurgents have orchestrated the campaign of attacks in a bid to provoke a violent response from Shiite Muslim militias and to derail a security crackdown in the capital by American and Iraqi forces.

In addition to the blast outside a hospital in Baghdad’s Shiite district of Sadr City, attackers ambushed a van carrying laborers who worked at an Iraqi army base outside the northern city of Kirkuk, killing at least eight of them. Four were reported to be men from the same family.

Another car bomb killed four people and injured 23 others who were waiting in line to buy gasoline in the predominantly Shiite town of Hillah, south of Baghdad. An eyewitness, Ammar Mousa, said the same car had aroused suspicions two days earlier when the driver tried to park near the long queue and people yelled at him to move.

Meanwhile, the government nearly doubled the official death toll in a March 27 bombing in the town of Tall Afar, near the Syrian border.

The initial estimate was 85, but Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Abdul Kareem Khalaf said Saturday that after the last bodies were pulled from the rubble of what had been a Shiite residential neighborhood, the total stood at 152, making it the most lethal single strike since the U.S. invasion in 2003.

Khalaf told a news conference in Baghdad that the enormous truck bomb left nearly 350 people injured, destroyed 100 homes and left a 75-foot-wide crater. Iraqi officials have blamed Sunni Muslim militants of Al Qaeda for the attack.

The past week has been the most violent since the security crackdown in Baghdad was launched in mid-February, but both Iraqi officials and the new U.S. envoy to Iraq vowed to press ahead with efforts to stem sectarian strife.

“We’ve seen encouraging signs of progress ¼ We have to keep moving forward,” Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, who took up his duties on Thursday, told reporters.

At the same time, President Jalal Talabani indicated the government was engaging in preliminary dialogue with some insurgent organizations.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the previous American ambassador, had confirmed earlier this month that U.S. and Iraqi officials had cultivated contacts with Sunni Muslim militants.

“There are many armed groups that have started talks with the Iraqi government,” Talibani told reporters Saturday. He provided no details.

Ten bodies were discovered dumped in various locations in Baghdad on Saturday, local hospital and morgue officials said. All were men, and all had been killed execution-style.

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