At least 68 people have been killed by a series of car bombs in Iraq's southern city of Basra in the deadliest terrorist attack there since the fall of Saddam Hussein. An agreement aimed at ending fighting between insurgents and U.S. Marines in the western Iraqi town of Fallujah appears to have been short lived.
Anguish in Basra, Iraq's second largest city, where several car bombs, apparently the work of suicide bombers, exploded Wednesday morning near police stations. Among the dead were school children. British-patrolled Basra had been largely calm in the year since the fall of Saddam Hussein.
A White House spokesman labeled the blasts the work of thugs and terrorists. There's been no claim of responsibility, but Basra's governor says he believes they were carried out by extremists connected to al-Qaida.
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan warns what happened in Basra is an indication that violence in Iraq is spreading, something which he said that could only have an adverse impact on any U.N. decision to resume work in the country.
"The security situation on the ground has a very important impact on our decisions and our activities," he said.
The sound of heavy fighting returned to the western Iraqi town of Fallujah. Marines battled Wednesday with Sunni militants. The U.S. forces said the militants have yet to turn in any of their heavy weapons, as called for in an agreement aimed at averting a U.S. assault on the city. The Marines encircling the city are threatening to move in with overwhelming force following the brutal killings of four American civilians there last month.
With the level of American troops in Iraq expected to soon hit 135,000. The Pentagon is not ruling out the possibility of sending even more troops there, beyond the 20,000 that have just had their tours of duty extended for 90 days.
Another country though, has now decided to pull its forces out of Iraq.
General Jose Miguel Soto Jimenez of the Dominican Republic said his government plans to bring its 300 troops home within the next few weeks. The announcement followed decisions by Spain and Honduras to quit the coalition as well.