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Apparent Suicide Attacks Kill 68 In Southern Iraq

21 April 2004 -- Four explosions have killed at least 68 people in Al-Basrah and a suburb of that city in southern Iraq today.

An Iraqi police colonel said the dead included some 10 children who were traveling to an elementary school in a bus.

Early reports suggested that some 200 civilians and police were wounded.

A fourth explosion occurred in a town near Al-Basrah shortly after the initial blasts. U.K. military officials said that blast killed four Iraqis and wounded two British soldiers.

The mayor of Al-Basrah, Wael Abd al-Hafeez, has accused the Al-Qaeda terrorist network of carrying out the apparently coordinated attacks, although Iraq's interior minister has said it is too early to identify those responsible.

"I accuse Al-Qaeda," al-Hafeez said. "We have arrested a person disguised in a police uniform. We are questioning him."

British military officials said the first three explosions were nearly simultaneous car bombs targeting police stations. Iraqi witnesses spoke of many casualties. A U.K. Defense Ministry spokeswoman in Al-Basrah was later quoted by Reuters as saying that "all four attacks seem to have been carried out by suicide bombers."

Al-Basrah has been relatively peaceful during this month's surge of violence in other parts of central and southern Iraq.

In Al-Fallujah today, reports said U.S. Marines and insurgents traded mortar, machine-gun, and rocket-propelled-grenade fire. U.S. Marines said a group of Iraqi insurgents attacked Marines in the city, setting off an intense battle. The attack reportedly began early today with a barrage of rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire. The U.S.-led coalition said in a statement that nine insurgents were killed and three U.S. Marines were wounded in a battle lasting more than two hours.

The attack came as U.S. Marines said insurgents had not turned in any heavy weapons. The weapons handover was a key condition for a tentative truce agreed over the weekend.

In response, U.S. troops surrounding Al-Fallujah halted the return of citizens to that city.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said a tentative truce in Al-Fallujah will not continue indefinitely.