Hospital in Iraq attacked

At least 30 die, including children

2 U.S. soldiers killed elsewhere


BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Insurgent attacks, including a car bomb that exploded outside a hospital as U.S. soldiers were handing out teddy bears and other gifts to children nearby, killed at least 41 Iraqis and two American soldiers yesterday.

An Iraqi official warned of a surge in violence as the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections approach.

The deadliest attack occurred just before 11 a.m., when a suicide bomber driving a maroon Opel station wagon detonated his vehicle at the gates of the hospital in the turbulent town of Mahmudiya, about 20 miles south of the capital.

The blast killed at least 30 people, including at least two children, and wounded 23.

"The whole front of the hospital was destroyed. All the windows were broken. I saw around 10 bodies, and I saw flesh in the ground that could make around 15 others," said Ali Jabbar Hassan, a Baghdad medical technician who rushed to the scene.

Elsewhere, a car bomb exploded in the southern city of Hillah during the evening, killing three people and injuring 14. An Interior Ministry official said the explosion apparently came from a parked car, not a suicide bomber.

Scattered attacks and shootings around the country killed at least 10 other people, including two U.S. soldiers and an aide to former interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. The aide, Adnan Jarrah, was killed about 4 p.m. yesterday when gunmen attacked his car in Baghdad's Saiydiya neighborhood.

The chief of a local police force in Mahmudiya, Mouaed Jabbir, was killed by a roadside bomb hours after the hospital attack.

Government spokesman Laith Kubba said violence probably will increase in coming weeks as insurgents seek to disrupt the elections.

The hospital bombing occurred while a U.S. Army civil affairs team was visiting to conduct an assessment for possible renovations.

But several witnesses say the bomber's target appeared to be the hospital, not the American military vehicles parked outside or the soldiers, who were handing out toys, gifts and small Iraqi flags to an impromptu gathering of children.

Four U.S. soldiers were wounded, none seriously, said Sgt. David Abrams, a spokesman for the 3rd Infantry Division.

Mahmudiya, along with Iskandariya and Latifiya, is part of a string of insurgent stronghold towns south of Baghdad that have bedeviled U.S. and Iraqi forces for more than two years despite numerous military offensives.

The stretch along the main highway between Baghdad and Najaf is notorious for insurgent attacks, kidnappings and straightforward highway robberies, earning it the nickname "road of death."

Mahmudiya, inhabited by Sunni and Shiite Muslims, sits on the tense frontier between the so-called Sunni triangle and Iraq's vast southern Shiite heartland.

As many as a dozen of the victims in Mahmudiya were hospital security guards. Other victims included patients at the hospital, visiting family members and passers-by. Many of the injured were taken to Baghdad for treatment.

Abu Omar, owner of a small candy and cigarette kiosk near the hospital, was hit by shrapnel in the back and stomach. Lying in Baghdad's Yarmuk Hospital, he recalled seeing the booby-trapped car coming fast toward the Mahmudiya hospital's gates. His 14-year-old son was being treated for multiple fractures in another part of the hospital. A younger son was killed in the blast.

The two U.S. soldiers killed yesterday were on patrol when a roadside bomb exploded southwest of Baghdad, the military said in its statement.

It also announced that two U.S. soldiers were killed Wednesday by gunfire southwest of Baghdad. Their names and those of the soldiers killed yesterday were withheld pending notification of their families.

More than 2,100 American troops have been killed in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.

An Internet videotape posted yesterday showed what it claimed were the three suicide bombers who carried out an attack last month on the heavily fortified Palestine and Sheraton hotels in Baghdad that killed 15 people.

The video's veracity could not be verified.

Ashraf Khalil writes for the Los Angeles Times.

Times writers Caeser Ahmed, Asmaa Waguih and Shamil Aziz contributed to this article.

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