BAGHDAD, Iraq – Militants attacked two churches with car bombs and set off blasts at a hospital, killing at least six people and injuring 52 others, officials said, in explosions that shook the Iraqi capital as U.S. forces launched their offensive on Fallujah (search).
The two car bombs hit churches in southern Baghdad in rapid succession at sundown.
The first went off near the St. Georges Church, the U.S. military said. Witnesses reported that 18 people were slightly injured in the explosion, which ripped a huge crater in the ground. The burned out remains of a car were seen nearby.
Armed men in several cars approached the church from every direction, said a neighbor who only identified himself as Qusai. "They were wearing police uniforms and asked us to leave the area. We saw them approach the church's door ... (then) we heard an explosion," he said.
The second car bomb detonated minutes later, less than a mile away, outside the St. Matthew Church, killing three people and wounding 34, said a policeman on the scene who declined to give his name.
Church guard Khalaf Enad, 40, said he saw a group of masked men driving up in a pickup truck in front of the church.
"They were all armed. They quickly poured out of the car ... opened fire for over a minute and then I heard a big explosion," he said.
The blast gouged a crater more than four yards wide and five feet deep, collapsed an outer wall of the church, shattered church windows and blew the doors off their hinges, said Deacon Matti Qeryaqos, 45, who lives nearby. There was no service at the church at the time, and the casualties were mostly people from nearby houses, he said.
Later in the evening, an explosion hit near Yarmouk Hospital (search) in western Baghdad, when two mortar rounds were fired at police cars parked outside, killing at least three policemen, said policeman Adnan Jassim Mohammed. He said there was an unspecified number of wounded.
A roadside bomb exploded Monday on the road to Baghdad International Airport (search), and U.S. troops clashed with insurgents in a neighborhood west of the city, witnesses reported. There was no immediate word on casualties.
The violence occurred as U.S. and Iraqi troops launched their long expected assault on Fallujah, 40 miles to the west, to regain control of the city from insurgents and Islamic extremists.