A suicide car bomber killed 60 people and wounded 170 near one of Iraq's most revered Shi'ite Muslim shrines on Saturday, in an attack likely to inflame sectarian tensions.
The US military said nine soldiers had been killed in Iraq in the past two days. The latest deaths raised to nearly 100 the number of US soldiers killed in April, making it one of the deadliest months for US forces since the 2003 invasion.
The blast in the holy city of Kerbala occurred at a checkpoint on an approach to the golden-domed al-Abbas shrine, situated among shops and restaurants. The area was crowded at the time.
Television footage showed a man running down a smoke-filled street holding a lifeless baby above his head. Smoke was rising off the baby. Ambulances rushed to the blast scene in Kerbala, 70 miles southwest of Baghdad.
Salim Khadhim, a provincial health spokesman, said the blast killed 60 people and wounded 170. Officials said local hospitals had to send some of the wounded to nearby cities because they were unable to cope.
"A car entered the checkpoint for the shrine and blew up in the midst of a crowd of people. Shops have been destroyed, a dozen cars caught fire," said Jasim Najim, a nearby shop owner.
The attack bore the hallmarks of Sunni Islamist al Qaeda, which U.S. and Iraqi officials accuse of trying to tip Iraq into full-scale civil war between the majority Shi'ites and minority Sunni Arabs, once-dominant under Saddam Hussein.
The US military commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, said on Thursday al Qaeda was bent on committing what he called "sensational" attacks designed to fuel more sectarian violence.