A car bomb killed 25 people on Thursday at a busy intersection in Baghdad where minibuses pick up and drop off passengers, while a roadside bomb killed three British soldiers in the southern Iraqi city of Basra.An interior ministry official cast doubt on reports that 20 beheaded bodies had been found on a river bank south of Baghdad.
Police earlier said the bodies were found by residents in the Sunni town of Salman Pak, but the official said an interior ministry team that went to the area with US soldiers could not find any victims.
In Baghdad, another car bomb targeting motorists queueing for petrol killed five people, police said. Mortar bombs also killed four people in two separate neighbourhoods in the city.
The bombings underscore the strength of militants in Iraq despite the arrival of 28,000 additional US troops. The unrelenting violence is pushing Iraq to the brink of all-out civil war between majority Shiites and minority Sunni Arabs.
US and Iraqi officials blame most major car bombings on Sunni Islamist Al Qaeda.
While the group has a strong foothold in Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri Maliki warned that the interrogation of captured Al Qaeda operatives showed the network was also planning attacks in a number of other countries.
Maliki made the comments in a speech to anti-terrorism officials in Baghdad, a statement from his office said.
“The prime minister… warned of a widespread and dangerous plan by the terrorist Al Qaeda organisation to target a number of countries which suffer religious and sectarian problems,” the statement said, without naming any countries.
“The confessions by members of Al Qaeda captured in Iraq uncovered a plan to cause panic and insecurity in those countries.” The deadliest car bomb in Baghdad exploded in the Shiite district of Bayaa. The blast, which went off during the morning rush hour, wounded 40 people and destroyed dozens of vehicles.
“It was a horrible explosion. Many, many people have been killed,” said witness Aqeel Kadhim, saying pickup trucks and ambulances rushed to take away the dead and wounded.
The blast dug a huge crater where the minibuses parked.
Residents could be seen searching the burned out minibuses for bodies. Corpses, some charred beyond recognition, lay twisted on the ground.
Tens of thousands of US and Iraqi troops are engaged in an offensive against Al Qaeda in an attempt to take down its car bomb networks, which have killed and maimed thousands of Iraqis.
Iraqi police earlier said locals had discovered 20 beheaded men on the bank of the River Tigris.
All the victims were wearing civilian clothes and had their hands and legs bound, police said.
The interior ministry official said there may have been “confusion” among police about the initial reports.
The British soldiers in Basra were on foot at the time of the blast in the southeast of the city, spokesman Major David Gell said. They were part of a routine convoy heading out of Basra and had dismounted from their armoured vehicles.
Foreign soldiers in Iraq increasingly get out in areas known to be mined with roadside bombs to reduce the risk of more casualties should a big blast hit a single vehicle carrying a number of troops.
The blast came a day after Gordon Brown replaced Tony Blair as Britain’s prime minister. Blair’s rule ended with his popularity badly dented by the 2003 Iraq war.
More than 150 British soldiers have been killed in Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003.