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A suicide car bomber struck a busy Baghdad commercial district Monday, killing at least 21 people, setting vehicles on fire and damaging a nearby Sunni shrine, police and hospital officials said.
The blast went off at 2 p.m. in the Sinak market area on the east side of the Tigris River, just as U.S. and Iranian diplomats were wrapping up a historic meeting aimed at ending the violence wracking the country.
Insurgents carried out several mortar and car bombing attacks throughout the capital Monday and even waged a lengthy gunbattle with police in broad daylight. The wave of violence, which killed 36 people across Baghdad, came despite a nearly 15-week-old U.S.-led security crackdown in the city.
Another 33 bullet-riddled bodies were found handcuffed, blindfolded and showing signs of torture in different parts of Baghdad, the apparent victims of ongoing sectarian violence.
The deadliest attack Monday was the car bombing in the Sinak district, near the Abdul-Qadir al-Gailani mosque.
AP Television News footage showed dozens of astonished people wandering among the scorched cars and debris that littered the scene. Firefighters in yellow helmets struggled to extinguish the fire as ambulances rushed to evacuate the wounded.
Ghaith Karim, a 38-year-old Shiite cloth merchant, was heading to a nearby bus station when he saw a fireball and heard the blast.
"It was tremendous. I felt the ground was shaking," he said. "When I reached the scene, I found legs, charred pieces of bodies and pools of blood. Casualties were being evacuated by civilian cars."
The television footage showed damage to the mosque's minaret, while the cleric in charge of the Sunni shrine, Mahmoud al-Issawi, said the blast damaged the building's dome as well.
"The enemies of Iraq are the only ones who benefit from this bombing. These enemies have targeted our homeland, religion and our brotherhood," al-Issawi told Iraqiya TV.
The blast also wounded 66, including three traffic policemen.
Earlier Monday, a battle raged between militants and police in the narrow alleys of another central Baghdad neighborhood after insurgents hijacked two minibuses and kidnapped at least 15 passengers, police said.
At least three policemen were killed and eight other people were wounded in the fighting, authorities said.
The buses were traveling from Baghdad's main bus station to the city's eastern Shiite neighborhoods about 10:15 a.m. when gunmen in three cars forced them to stop as they passed through the Sunni enclave of Fadhil.
The attackers took the passengers to a nearby abandoned medical center. A gunbattle broke out when Iraqi security forces arrived 30 minutes later, police said. Nine militants were arrested as they attacked security forces from nearby alleys with light weapons.
At least two U.S. helicopters hovered overhead and U.S. forces took up positions near the fighting, but were not directly involved, police said.
After 45 minutes, Iraqi security forces stormed the building, but the militants had already left, apparently with their hostages, police said.
In other attacks, a rocket landed near a gas station in the Shiite-dominated Baghdad neighborhood of Karrada on Monday afternoon, killing four people and wounding three others, police said. Hours earlier, two mortars slammed into a Karrada street, killing two people and wounding six others, police said.
A parked car bomb ripped through an outdoor market in southeastern Baghdad's Zafaraniyah neighborhood Monday evening, killing three civilians and injuring 10 others, police said.
A roadside bomb killed two people and injured another nine when it detonated under a parked car in the central Baghdad district of Bab al-Muadham, and a sniper targeting the entrance to Mustansiriyah University in eastern Baghdad killed a female student, police said.
In the turbulent northern city of Kirkuk, gunmen killed journalist Mahmoud Kassab, the editor of a local newspaper and the head of a local Turkoman movement, police said. According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, 104 journalists â€” not including Kassab â€” have been killed since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
Attacks on Iraqi security continued Monday, with four police officers in the northern city of Mosul killed in a suicide bombing and a police officer in Basra killed in a drive-by shooting, police said.