Basra bomb kills 20

“Twenty people, mostly civilians, were killed and 45 wounded in the car bomb attack in a crowded market in Basra,” an interior ministry source said.

He said the toll was expected to climb.

The bomb exploded as a police patrol passed, tearing into a crowded market near a newly opened shopping mall and destroying at least four cars.

On September 13, four Iraqi private security guards were killed and two wounded in a roadside bombing outside Basra, the biggest city in southern Iraq, in the last attack to hit the relatively quiet region.

Increased attacks

In recent weeks there has been an increase in attacks in the south, where the mainly Shiite population are generally less hostile to the presence of US-led troops than Sunni Arabs in north-central Iraq.

On September 7, four American guards escorting a US diplomatic convoy were killed in a bombing, while three British soldiers were also killed in two separate blasts that week.

Monday’s bombing struck as the US military announced the deaths of seven more American troops, bringing US military losses in Iraq since the 2003 invasion to at least 2,021 according to a tally by Agence France Presse.

Four US soldiers died when their patrol struck a homemade bomb near Yusufiyah, in an unrest blackspot south of capital dubbed the Triangle of Death, while two more were killed in an explosion while on patrol near Balad, north of Baghdad.

On Sunday, a third bomb killed a marine near Al-Amariyah, on the capital’s western outskirts.

Multinational force mandate

Iraq has asked the UN Security Council to allow a US-led multinational force remain in the country for another year, acknowledging its own troops could not yet assure national security.

The request came in a letter to the 15-nation council from Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari.

“This means that basically the mandate and the status of the multinational force will be discussed in the coming weeks so that from January 1, 2006, we will have a consistent military presence in Iraq as happened in the past,” said Mihai-Razvan Ungureanu, the foreign minister of Romania, the Security Council president for October.

The multinational force’s current mandate expires at the end of this year, under a resolution approved by the council in June 2004, when the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority turned over Iraq’s administration to an interim government.

Extending the mandate through the end of 2006 will require the council to adopt a new resolution in the next two months.

Mr Jaafari said the government in Baghdad wanted the right to terminate the mandate before the end of 2006 if it decided to do so.

Saddam’s brother

In Baghdad, Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari said he could accept the transfer of deposed leader Saddam Hussein’s half-brother Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti from a high-security prison cell to a secure hospital for cancer treatment.

“I am not against it (his transfer), it is a question of humanitarian rights,” he told reporters, echoing similar comments a day earlier from President Jalal Talabani.

“The trial itself and treatment of the accused are two separate issues,” Mr Jaafari said. “We are responsible for the protection of those accused, for their health and for the conditions under which they are held,” he said.

Barzan appeared in the dock on October 19 alongside Saddam and six other defendants as a special Iraqi court began their trial on charges of crimes against humanity over the 1982 killing of nearly 150 Shiite civilians.

Prosecutor Jaafar al-Mussawi said he had received no official request from the accused for a medical transfer but noted that it was up to the court to make the decision.

“If such a request were made, a special team of doctors would examine him before recommending his treatment under guard in hospital,” he told reporters.

US offensive

US-led troops meanwhile pressed an offensive in western Iraq against insurgents loyal to Al-Qaeda, killing at least one rebel but reportedly also hitting civilians in a town close to the border with Syria.

A dawn air strike in Karabilah was aimed at an Al-Qaeda cell leader, but medics reported civilian deaths as well.

“A senior Al-Qaeda cell leader was the target of the strike,” Major Flora Lee told AFP.

A doctor at Al-Qaim hospital told AFP by telephone he had heard reports that 35 people were killed in the raid on two houses, even though his clinic on the opposite side of the Euphrates River had treated only six wounded civilians.

The military also said it had killed Saudi national Abu Saud, whom it identified as an “Al-Qaeda foreign fighter facilitator”, in Ubaydi, near Al-Qaim.

Saud and three unidentified companions died in a hail of gunfire as they tried to avoid arrest on Saturday, a statement said.

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