Iraq car bombs kill 26 and injure 100

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A wave of car bombings across Iraq, including one in the supposedly secure Green Zone in Baghdad, killed 26 people and injured more than 100 yesterday.

As the car bombers struck, US warplanes pounded rebel-held towns in an offensive aimed at establishing control in Iraq in time for elections in January.

Meanwhile, the British hostage Kenneth Bigley may have been "sold" to a new group of kidnappers who would be willing to exchange him for a ransom, his brother said yesterday.

Paul Bigley, whose brother was abducted 18 days ago, said he had been told by contacts with an intimate knowledge of Iraqi insurgents that the Briton could have been handed over by Tawhid and Jihad this weekend to a group whose aims were financial rather than political.

In Fallujah, air strikes killed nine people and injured 14. Doctors said civilians were among the casualties, but the American military insisted they were followers of Mr Bigley's kidnapper, the Jordanian-born militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

The bombings began near an Iraqi army centre at one of the entrances to the Green Zone which houses the British and US embassies and the offices of the Iraqi interim government. A vehicle packed with explosives crashed into a fortified wall, killing at least 15 people and wounding more than 80.

Within an hour, a truck ploughed into a US military convoy before exploding on the east bank of the river Tigris. At least six people were killed and around 13 injured.

A third car bomb detonated outside a primary school in the northern city of Mosul. There were five dead, including two children, and 11 were injured.

Many recruits injured in the first Baghdad blast blamed the Americans. Being treated at the Yarmouk Hospital, 32-year-old Hamid Ismail said: "There were helicopters in the sky, and I am certain it is the Americans who did this. Because they want to create confusion. I still intend to join the army when I recover. I am joining the Iraqi army, not an American one."

In scenes likely to raise fresh concern over the fate of Mr Bigley, Islamic militants distributed a video to an international news agency showing the killings of two men, who identified themselves as an Italian of Iraqi origin and a Turk. A militant who appeared in the video accused the two of spying. They were shown blindfolded and kneeling in front of a ditch before being shot. But there was some positive news as an Iraqi militant group released two Indonesian women.

Meanwhile, there were signs that the Irish government could mediate in the Bigley case. Dublin was understood to be investigating whether the 62-year-old engineer, whose mother is Irish but who was travelling on a British passport, could be automatically eligible for Irish citizenship.