School buses hit as 55 die in Basra blasts

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The Independent Online

At least 68 people, including 10 children, were killed as a series of explosions tore through three police stations and a police academy in the southern Iraq city of Basra today.

At least 68 people, including 10 children, were killed as a series of explosions tore through three police stations and a police academy in the southern Iraq city of Basra today.

At least 238 people were wounded in the attacks, the bloodiest in the ususally peaceable mainly Shi'ite city since coalition forces occupied Iraq a year ago.

The explosions hit three police stations in Basra and the academy in the suburb of Zubair nearly simultaneously after 7am, while many residents were on their way to markets, jobs or school. An hour later, another blast targeted the same police academy, where five UK soldiers were reportedly injured, one seriously.

Iraqis pulled charred and torn bodies from mangled vehicles in front of the Saudia station, near Basra's crowded main street market. Two vans carrying schoolchildren were destroyed, one carrying nursery children, the other carrying middle-school girls.

The Iraqi Interior Minister Samir Shaker Mahmoud al-Sumeidi blamed "terrorists." He said the Basra attack resembled suicide bombings earlier this year against Shi'ites and Kurds that were blamed on foreign Islamic militants.

"The information we have indicate that the attacks were carried out with car bombs," he said. "As for who is behind Basra attacks, it is clear that that the fingerprints of the parties that were behind the massacres in Iraq as in Irbil and Karbala can be seen in today's attacks."

British troops who tried to come to the Saudia station to help were met by angry Iraqis, blaming British for failing to keep security in the city. Major Hisham al-Halawi, spokesman for British forces in Basra, said: "We don't know yet who committed these bombings."

There was no immediate word who was behind the attack. A radical Shi'ite militia was active in Basra during the early days of its uprising across the south this month, but its gunmen targeted coalition troops and the fighting died down in Basra after only a few days.

Meanwhile, an agreement aimed at bringing peace to the central city of Fallujah met troubles only a day after its implementation began. A heavy battle broke out in the morning on the city's north side, where up to 40 insurgents attacked US Marine positions, commanders said. Nine insurgents were killed, and three Marines were wounded, a spokesman said.

During the fighting, a few mosques blared messages calling gunmen to battle. "These people killed our children and made our women homeless and raped them. Fight them to the death, and there is no doubt you will go to heaven," went one message according to a Marine translator.

Afterwards, the city returned to the calm it has seen over the past few days as weekend negotiations were held between US officials and Fallujah representatives, producing Monday's agreement on the first steps toward bringing peace.

In other violence today. two missiles hit a residence and a car outside the building in southern Baghdad, killing one person and wounding four, while Iraqi security forces killed four militants in Kirkuk and seized three vehicles wired with explosives.

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