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Iraq Transition

Suicide car bomber kills 28 in Baghdad

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NEW: "Clearing" continues in Sadr City area; residents say they feel safer
• Baghdad suicide car bombing kills 28 in book market
• Gunmen kill at least nine in series of attacks on Shiite pilgrims
• 26 arrested in operations in the Salaheddin province
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Black smoke filled the skies over central Baghdad just before midday Monday as a suicide car bomber detonated explosives in a busy commercial district, killing 28 people and wounding 56 others, Baghdad police said.

The attack took place in a book market along Mutanabi Street at 11:45 a.m. (3:45 a.m. ET)

Mutanabi Street, named after a legendary 10th-century poet, once attracted Baghdad's intellectuals, who gathered at the bookshops for a lively exchange of ideas.

"Papers from the book market were floating through the air like leaflets dropped from a plane," a Health Ministry worker who was near the explosion told The Associated Press.

"Pieces of flesh and the remains of books were scattered everywhere," he told AP.

Meanwhile, in a series of deadly attacks, insurgents Monday targeted Shiite pilgrims in and around Baghdad on their way to Karbala for a religious commemoration.

At least nine people were killed and 24 wounded in separate attacks.

Tens of thousands of worshipers are en route to the holy city for Arbayeen, which is the commemoration of the killing of Imam Hussein. The observance falls on March 10 this year, at the end of the traditional 40-day mourning period following the anniversary of his death, known as Ashura.

Imam Hussein is revered by Shiite Muslims as the successor to the Prophet Mohammed.

A roadside bomb struck a group of pilgrims walking on the Mohammed al-Qassim Highway in eastern Baghdad, killing at least three and wounding 10 others, a Baghdad police official told CNN.

Others were shot and killed by gunmen in separate attacks in Baghdad, where many pilgrims are beginning the 50-mile (80-kilometer) journey on foot from Baghdad to Karbala.

U.S., Iraqi forces meet little resistance in crackdown

More than a thousand U.S. and Iraqi forces continued a massive clearing operation of the Sadr City area in eastern Baghdad on Monday. There have been no reports of any major resistance in the densely populated Shiite district, once a hotbed of sectarian violence.

The clearing operation, which is in its second day, is part of the new Baghdad security plan.

CNN's Jennifer Eccleston spent eight hours on patrol with Iraqi and U.S. forces on Monday in Sadr City, which is also the headquarters of the Mehdi Army, a militia loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

"People were out shopping, children were playing soccer, playing football ... groups of young girls were walking around," she said. "I have been to Sadr City half a dozen times in three years, and I have never seen it so calm and seemingly normal."

Eccleston said residents told her they feel safer than they have in a long time and praised the Iraqi forces.

When asked about the American forces, residents said, "Well, they are helping out the Iraqis, and when that's done, they will go home," Eccleston reported.

On Sunday, the U.S. command in Baghdad said the joint operation in Sadr City is the largest security sweep of the neighborhood since the Iraq-led security plan, dubbed "Enforcing the Law," or "Fardh al Qanoon" in Arabic, was officially launched February 14.

No weapons caches were found or suspects detained during the operation, said Lt. Col. Scott R. Bleichwehl, a U.S. military spokesman. There were no incidents of violence and no casualties to coalition forces, Iraqi security forces or civilians during the sweep, he said.

Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, commander of the multinational corps in Iraq, speaking from Baghdad on Sunday, said he expects it will be "a minimum of six to nine months" before Iraqi forces will be able to maintain order in Baghdad.

Other developments

  • At least 26 people were arrested in operations in the Salaheddin province, including a local leader of a conservative Sunni organization and five of his aides, according to Iraqi officials. Also in the province, gunmen killed five Iraqi police who were driving to their jobs in Samarra, according to an official with the Tikrit police.
  • The U.S. military announced Monday that a U.S. soldier was killed when a roadside bomb struck an armored security vehicle outside Kirkuk on Sunday night. Another U.S. soldier was wounded in the incident. With the death, 3,174 U.S. military personnel have died in the Iraq war, including seven civilian Defense Department contractors.
  • Chinese oil officials are scheduled to arrive in Baghdad on Tuesday to renegotiate an old contract to develop an oil field along a major pipeline in Kut, an oil ministry spokesman told CNN on Monday. The announcement came a week after Iraq's government agreed on a plan to open the country's oil industry to international investment.
  • Iraqi security forces working with coalition advisers arrested a suspected rogue member of the Mehdi Army, a militia loyal to anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, on Monday, a U.S. military statement said. The military did not identify the suspect.
  • Late Sunday, Iraqi security forces arrested the local leader of an al Qaeda-linked Sunni insurgent group in Dhuluiya, north of Baghdad, an Interior Ministry spokesman said. The group, the Islamic State of Iraq, claimed responsibility for the recent kidnappings and killings of 15 Iraqi police officers in retaliation for an alleged rape that has aggravated the already deteriorating ties between Sunnis and Shiites.
  • CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq and Jennifer Deaton contributed to this report.

    Copyright 2007 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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