A homicide car bomber blew himself up in a crowded market in oil-rich southern Basra on Saturday, killing 28 people and wounding 62. In Baghdad, a Russian diplomat was killed and four diplomatic employees were kidnapped.
Meanwhile, Iraq's prime minister was poised to appoint ministers to run the army and police, despite lingering disagreement among Iraq's ethnic and sectarian parties. Filling the posts is seen as a key step toward Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's plan for Iraqi forces to take control of security from U.S.-led troops in 18 months.
Around Iraq, at least 42 people were killed Saturday and dozens were wounded, and police discovered the remains of 12 people, including eight severed heads.
In Basra, the country's second-biggest city, the suicide car bomb exploded in the late afternoon when many people were shopping, police Capt. Mushtaq Kadhim said. The blast left pools of blood around the market square and set several vehicles on fire.
It wasn't known who staged the attack, but Basra has seen growing violence and unrest, leading Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki last week to declare a monthlong state of emergency in the mainly Shiite city.
The attack came one day after Jordanian-born terrorist mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi called on Iraq's Sunni Arabs to kill Shiites. His Al Qaeda in Iraq has claimed responsibility for some of the most horrific attacks in Iraq, including bombings that have killed more than 100 people.
In Baghdad, gunmen attacked a Russian diplomatic car just after noon, killing one Russian foreign service employee and kidnapping four, Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement. The ministry identified the slain Russian as Vitaly Vitalyevich Titov, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency.
At least 439 foreigners including diplomats have been kidnapped in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion three years ago, according to figures provided earlier this month by a U.S. anti-kidnapping task force. Russia opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and has no troops here but maintains a diplomatic presence.
Associated Press Television News footage showed a white SUV with tinted windows and diplomatic license plates, a type of car favored by U.S. officials and security contractors and often targeted by insurgents.
A small paper tag in the car window reading "Russian Embassy" in English and Arabic was punctured by a bullet hole.
Amid the violence, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki held last-minute negotiations with Sunni and Shiite leaders. Al-Maliki plans Sunday to announce his choices for interior and defense ministers, two weeks after his government of national unity took office.
Sunni Arabs complained that negotiators for al-Maliki's Shiite faction again rejected their candidates for defense minister. They said they would hold further talks early Sunday before parliament convenes. The Interior Ministry post will go to a Shiite, the Defense Ministry to a Sunni Arab.
"We want to solve the problem and rebuild our country and that we present what we see competent enough to achieve this goal," Sunni Arab deputy Sheik Khalaf al-Elyan said.
Fellow Sunni Arab legislator Hashim al-Taie said the issue had to settled Sunday "because it's taking so long and the Iraqi people are expecting us to solve their problems."
Iraqi police found eight severed heads north of Baghdad with a note indicating they were killed in retaliation for the slaying of four Shiite doctors. Five of the slain men were security guards at a Baghdad hospital complex who had been arrested Thursday by Iraqi police, police Lt. Col. Adil Al-Zihari said. At least four other bodies were found across Baghdad.
In other violence Saturday, according to police:
— Gunmen ambushed a police checkpoint in the capital, killing seven police and wounding five pedestrians.
— Six mortar rounds hit a central Baghdad square, killing a child.
— Drive-by attackers shot and killed two car-parts salesmen and a mechanic as they worked at their shop in Baqouba.
— Gunmen in a car opened fire on two people in another vehicle, killing one and wounding the other, in the predominantly Sunni Dora neighborhood in southern Baghdad.
— Gunmen stopped an ambulance and opened fire in Dora, killing the driver and wounding a passenger.