BASRA, Iraq (Reuters) - At least eight people were killed and dozens wounded in three explosions in Iraq’s southern oil hub Basra Wednesday, officials said.
Bombings and attacks remain a daily occurrence in Iraq nearly nine years after the U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein and the number of people killed in October was the highest this year.
Military leaders have expressed concerns that militants might ramp up attacks as the 39,000 U.S. troops left in Iraq pack up to leave.
The explosions occurred outside three cafes on a street in central Basra where people gather in the evening to smoke a water pipe and play dominoes and backgammon.
Ali al-Maliki, head of the Basra provincial council’s security committee, said eight people were killed and 22 others wounded. Brigadier Faisal al-Abadi, head of Basra police, put the toll at two killed and 30 wounded.
Basra is 420 km (260 miles) southeast of Iraq’s capital Baghdad.
“I was near my son’s cafe when I heard an explosion and quickly came to the area. I saw people lying on the ground, blood spots on the floor. People were shocked and screaming. My son is amongst the wounded,” said Abu Abdullah, whose son owns one of the cafes targeted in the attack.
A Reuters witness at the scene said there was little structural damage as a result of the blasts. “There are many critical cases amongst the wounded. We expect the death toll will rise,” a hospital source in Basra said.
United States President Barack Obama said on October 21 that all U.S. forces would withdraw from Iraq by the year-end in accordance with a 2008 security pact.
Although violence has dropped sharply from the height of sectarian fighting in 2006-7, Iraqi security forces continue to battle a Sunni insurgency and Shi’ite militias that carry out scores of bombings and other attacks each month.
The number of civilians killed in violence in Iraq climbed sharply in October following a string of suicide and roadside bombings in Baghdad. Attacks have also increased against Iraq’s army and police.
Writing by Serena Chaudhry; Editing by Robert Woodward