BAGHDAD -- The death toll for Iraqi civilians and American forces rose inexorably yesterday as a car bomb ripped through crowds of worshipers in the Shiite shrine city of Karbala, killing at least 60 people, and U.S. military authorities announced the deaths of nine soldiers and Marines.
U.S. deaths have surged in April.
Details were sketchy of the Karbala attack, the second in the city this month. The car bomb apparently exploded at the checkpoint closest to a mosque that is one of Shiite Islam's holiest shrines. The streets around the shrine are constantly filled with pilgrims.
In the chaos after the explosion, television footage showed a man running amid a crowd holding an infant's lifeless body. A mob incensed over the lack of security provided by the government attacked a guest house near the Karbala governor's residence, reportedly setting it on fire.
On April 14, a car bomb exploded in a Karbala bus station near the shrine, killing 47 people and wounding 224. In yesterday's attack, 170 people were wounded.
The attack comes in the third month of the U.S.-led military coalition's security crackdown and in the midst of an intensifying political struggle in Washington over the war. Last week, Congress passed a bill that would make additional funding for the war contingent on a timed withdrawal of U.S. troops. President Bush has promised to veto the bill.
Most of the troops added since Feb. 13 have been sent to Baghdad. But the Karbala attack, apparently by a suicide bomber, shows the difficulty of stopping determined extremists willing to kill themselves. Police had sealed off the shrine from traffic even before another revered Shiite mosque, the Golden Dome of Samarra, was destroyed by bombers in February 2006.
In Baghdad, the center of the troop buildup, civilian casualties have declined since mid-February, but overall civilian casualties in Iraq are up, the U.S. military said this month.
The Americans reported killed in action included four soldiers killed by roadside bombs in the Baghdad area yesterday, plus three soldiers and two Marines who were killed in Anbar combat operations Friday.
Only five other months have been more deadly than April for U.S. forces since the war began in March 2003.
Elsewhere, residents of Awja, Saddam Hussein's hometown, quietly observed what would have been his 70th birthday yesterday.
The deposed president was executed Dec. 30 after being found guilty of crimes against humanity.
Chris Kraul writes for the Los Angeles Times.