BAGHDAD, Iraq – A parked car bomb exploded at a popular outdoor market Saturday in a Shiite slum in Baghdad, killing at least 66 people and wounding dozens, authorities said. It was the bloodiest attack to hit Iraq since the death of terror leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
The blast, which occurred around 10 a.m. when the Sadr City market was packed with shoppers, destroyed the stalls where food and clothes are peddled and sent up a plume of gray smoke. Flames shot out the windows of several scorched cars.
Ambulances rushed to the scene and carried the victims to hospitals, where men cradled crying babies as doctors bandaged them. Rasoul Zaboun, an official from the Imam Ali Hospital in Sadr City, said 66 people were killed and 87 wounded.
Police Col. Hassan Jaloob also said 22 shops and stalls were destroyed, along with 14 vehicles.
Angry residents swarmed around the wreckage, with several young men chanting as they rocked the burned out hulk of the car that apparently held the explosives.
No group claimed responsibility for the attack. But car bombings and suicide attacks against Shiite civilians have often been blamed on Al Qaeda in Iraq, which al-Zarqawi led until he was killed in a U.S. airstrike June 7.
Zarqawi's death has not brought a halt to the attacks. At least 631 Iraqi civilians and security forces were killed between June 8 and June 30, according to Associated Press figures. That includes 25 people killed Monday in a bicycle bombing in Baqouba.
Also Saturday, gunmen kidnapped a Sunni female member of parliament in a Shiite area of the capital, officials said.
Lawmaker Tayseer Mashhadani was traveling from nearby Diyala province in a three-car convoy to attend a parliament session Sunday in Baghdad when her party was stopped by gunmen in the east of the city, officials said.
Hamdi Hassoun, an official with the Iraqi Islamic Party branch in Diyala, said Mashhadani was stopped at a checkpoint manned by about 10 armed men in civilian clothes. After checking her identity card, the gunmen asked her and her bodyguards to step out, then forced them into other cars and drove them away, Hassoun said, adding that one bodyguard managed to escape.
Mashhadani is a member of the Iraqi Islamic Party, which is part of the Iraqi Accordance Front, a Sunni bloc that holds 44 seats in the 275-member parliament.
Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish lawmaker, blamed the kidnapping on sectarian tensions, which threaten to plunge the country into civil war.
Iraqi police also found a grave of several men who were apparently shot to death more than a month ago in Baghdad. Lt. Thaer Mahmoud said police had recovered at least six badly decomposed bodies in the grave, located in a Baghdad area notorious for sectarian killings.
The violence came after a relatively calm day in Baghdad amid a four-hour driving ban aimed at preventing suicide bombs during Friday prayers. It underscored the difficulties faced by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as he tries to curb rampant sectarian and ethnic attacks with strict security measures and a 24-point national reconciliation plan.
Al-Maliki, meanwhile, left for a whirlwind trip to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates to seek support for his reconciliation initiative, which includes an amnesty for the mostly Sunni insurgents.
The prime minister also was expected to brief the Sunni leadership of those three countries on his efforts to deal with the divisions between Shiites and Sunnis. Iraq's neighbors in the Persian Gulf fear sectarian tensions will spill over into their countries, which are dominated by Sunnis but have large Shiite minorities.
In other violence Saturday, according to police:
— A former senior police officer under Saddam Hussein's regime was killed in a drive-by shooting as he was leaving his house in Baqouba. Gunmen also opened fire on a barber shop in Baqouba, wounding four people, including two children.
— Iraqi soldiers found the bodies of three soldiers who were abducted Friday, as well as an unidentified man, near the northern city of Kirkuk. Two other soldiers were still missing.
— Gunmen killed a policeman in a drive-by shooting in the center of Kirkuk.