Witnesses and Iraqi officials say a car bomb has torn through a marketplace in southern Iraq, killing at least 19 people and possibly many more.

Officials have given conflicting accounts of the death toll from Wednesday's blast in Bathaa, near the southern city of Nasiriya.  Several local officials say 19 people were killed, while other sources earlier put the death toll around 33.

Scores of people were wounded when the blast ripped through the town's commercial center.  Witnesses said women and children were among the dead.

A group of angry residents blamed lax security for the attack, and protested as local officials visited the site.  Security forces fired warning shots in the air to keep the crowd at bay.

Confusion over casualty figures is common in the chaotic aftermath of bombings in Iraq.

No one has claimed responsibility for the bombing, but several Iraqi officials blamed al-Qaida.

The mainly Shi'ite town is about 300 kilometers southeast of Baghdad.  The region was the site of fierce internal fighting between Shi'ite militia factions before a cease-fire took hold.

Bombings are regular occurrences in Iraq, but overall violence has sharply declined in recent months.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.