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Iraq fuel truck bomb devastates town, kills 98

Stricken townspeople swept away the wreckage of a fuel truck bomb that killed 98 people south of Baghdad as three more suicide car bombers struck the Iraqi capital on Sunday in a relentless new campaign.

The overnight attack which devastated the highway town of Musayyib was the deadliest since the new Iraqi government took power in April and the highest death toll from a single car bomb since 125 people were killed in February in Hilla, also south of Baghdad.

Saturday's bombing prompted denunciations of the authorities in parliament and calls for local militia to take up arms.

Some 15 suicide bombers have struck within just over 48 hours in the capital and along the highway heading south in what al Qaeda's Iraq wing has declared is a new campaign to seize control of Baghdad.

By far the worst incident was the blast near a Shi'ite mosque which caused devastation in the mixed Sunni and Shi'ite town, in the centre of a violent area dubbed by U.S. forces the "triangle of death".

A suicide bomber blew up a fuel truck near a crowded vegetable market outside the mosque. In addition to the 98 killed, hospital sources said 75 wounded were being treated, including 19 in a serious condition.

"This is a black day in the history of the town," Musayyib police chief Yas Khudayr said.

"After the bomb I went over there and found my son's head. I could not find his body," said Mohsen Jassim of his 18-year-old son.

On Sunday, angry crowds railed against the authorities outside buildings gutted by flame, while bulldozers swept aside the burnt-out wreckage of cars.

"The police banned trucks from entering Musayyib, yet they let in a fuel tanker. This is crime! The police are all agents (of the insurgency)," shouted one man.

At a tense session in parliament, politicians assailed the government for failing to maintain security and called for local militia to be formed to replace failed police and soldiers.

"The plans of the interior and defence ministries to impose security in Iraq have failed to stop the terrorists. We need to bring back popular militias," senior parliamentarian Khudair al-Khuzai told the chamber.

Al Qaeda in Iraq, which has urged hundreds of suicide bombers from across the Arab world to come to Iraq to wage holy war, has claimed responsibility for the latest bombing campaign and said more violence would follow, although it did not explicitly claim the Musayyib attack.

"The operation is continuing as planned and we warn the enemies of God of more to come. We ask our Muslim brothers around the world to pray for God to grant us victory," said an al Qaeda Internet statement on Saturday.

Sunday began with three more suicide car bombs in the capital, police sources said. One attack, at a police checkpoint in the east of the city, killed three and wounded 14. The second, at a checkpoint in the south, killed one and wounded three. The third, near the former election commission headquarters, killed three and wounded two.

Qaeda had claimed responsibility for two attacks by late morning.

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