BAGHDAD — A car bomb in a sleepy southern Iraqi town killed at least 30 people Wednesday and wounded 65, police and witnesses said. The blast prompted angry accusations from residents that local authorities had failed to keep them safe.
The explosives in a car parked by a street market in Batha went off about 9:30 a.m. as the indoor shops and stalls were crowded with shoppers.
"I was astonished that such an incident actually happened here," said Wael Thageel, a resident of Batha, about 20 miles northwest of Nasiriya. "It's the first of its kind -- maybe in Nasiriya or Baghdad, but never here. This is a quiet, peaceful town."
An angry crowd gathered after the blast and denounced security officials for not preventing the attack. One person was wounded when police broke up the protest by firing warning shots, said a police officer from Nasiriya.
The officer said the Batha police chief had been suspended and that an investigation had been ordered by the police commander of Dhi Qar province. He denied reports on Iraqi television that the chief had been fired by the provincial governor.
Batha is filled with Shiite Muslim tribesmen who formerly lived in Kuwait. Goat herding is one of the main occupations there. Political life in the district has been dominated by the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, a Shiite party.
After the blast, residents inspected the remains of the car: a charred gray frame, shorn of its roof, doors and windows. Tattered clothing belonging to the dead and wounded littered the ground. Some people started to pick up the twisted, blackened debris.
The explosion came less than three weeks before the U.S. military is scheduled to turn over responsibility for security in cities to Iraqi forces and pull back into the countryside. Iraqis are nervous about the transition. They wonder whether the country risks falling back into the cycle of sectarian violence that threatened to splinter the nation in 2006 and '07.
Some fear that the militant group Al Qaeda in Iraq and others will test the Iraqi security forces. Shiite militias also could once more try to flex their muscles.
Others worry that the country's political parties could resort to bloodshed in the countdown to January's national elections as different sides seek an advantage.
Times staff writer Saif Hameed and a special correspondent in Basra, Iraq, contributed to this report.