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Iraq car bombs kill 25

Triple car bombs killed at least 25 people in the southern city of Amara on Wednesday, as Iraq announced it would retake control of the key province of Basra from the British army.

world Updated: Dec 12, 2007 20:25 IST

Triple car bombs killed at least 25 people in the southern city of Amara on Wednesday, as Iraq announced it would retake control of the key province of Basra from the British army on December 16.

The bombings came as Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said at an economic conference in the southern port city of Basra that Iraq was progressing "step by step" in achieving total security across the country.

Zamil Shia'a al-Oreibi, director general of Amara health department, said the bombings killed 25 people and that 10 children were among the 151 wounded.

Lieutenant Ali Kadhim Hassan from Amara police said the three bombs exploded within minutes of each other, with the first bomb going off at 10:30 am (0730 GMT).

The Amara bombings came amid a series of attacks in Iraq over the past week after an Al-Qaeda linked group warned it would unleash a bombing campaign in the country.

Hundreds of relatives of victims rushed to hospitals in the city in search of their loved ones as police announced over loudspeakers that authorities had imposed a 24-hour curfew in Amara, an AFP correspondent reported.

"The security personnel must carefully check all the cars in the city, especially those entering the city," said Ali Hussein, 35, whose 11-year-old brother was wounded in the attack and admitted at Amara's Al-Zahrawi hospital.

British forces handed security control of Maysan province, of which Amara is the capital, over to Iraqi forces in April.

But the province and Amara in particular has witnessed intense Shiite infighting, often leading to street battles between militias and the Iraqi police.

Maysan was the fourth of Iraq's 18 province whose security control was handed over from the US-led coalition to local forces.

British forces pulled out of Amara in August 2006 and the city of 350,000 residents immediately saw gangs of looters move in and strip the barrack blocks bare, carting off roofing and air conditioning.

Shiite gunmen linked to radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army celebrated the British withdrawal as a victory, boasting they had liberated Amara from an occupying force.

Although Maysan's population is predominantly Shiite and has been spared the worst of the sectarian fighting between Shiites and Sunnis rampant around Baghdad, it has been rocked by frequent skirmishes between Shiite factions.

The bombings dealt a blow to claims by London and Baghdad that security in southern regions of Iraq was under control.

However, Baghdad on Wednesday announced it would take over security control of Basra -- the key southern province which sits on vast oil reserves -- from British troops on Sunday.

"The handover of Basra will take place on December 16," Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told reporters in Basra on the sidelines of the economic conference.

The British military also confirmed the date of the handover. "We confirm that the provincial handover of Basra will take place on December 16," a military spokeswoman told AFP by telephone from Basra.

Dabbagh said the handover was decided because Iraqi forces were ready to take over control of Basra. "Our security forces are at a good level" and Iraq's forces can manage "security in the province," he said.

A British parliamentary committee has, however, said that Britain failed in its original aim of bringing security to southern Iraq, and expressed concern about continued violence.

"The initial goal of UK forces in southeastern Iraq was to establish the security necessary for the development of representative political institutions and for economic reconstruction," the House of Commons defence committee said.

"Although progress has been made, this goal remains unfulfilled."

Britain has about 5,500 troops in southern Iraq and they are expected to be cut by more than half to 2,500 by early next year after Iraqis assume control of Basra province.

In total, 173 British troops have been killed in Iraq since the US-led invasion to oust dictator Saddam Hussein in March 2003, according to British defence ministry figures.