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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 March, 2005, 16:39 GMT
Iraqi town protests at bomb blast
Hundreds of angry Iraqis protest in Hilla following the car bomb attack
Hilla protesters are angry with the police over the bomb attack
Relatives of 125 victims of a car bomb in the Iraqi town of Hilla have begun burying their dead, as hundreds took to the streets in protest at the attack.

They demanded improved security measures and accused local police of failing to prevent the massive bomb blast that wounded at least 130 others.

The bombing happened as people queued for government jobs in the Shia town, 100km (60 miles) south of Baghdad.

It is the worst single attack since the US-led invasion nearly two years ago.

A claim of responsibility was made on an Islamist website by a group calling itself the al-Qaeda Organisation for Holy War in Iraq, Reuters news agency reported. The claim could not be independently verified.

Sunni insurgents are blamed for much of the violence against the US-backed authorities and the majority Shias, whose political representatives won January's election.

Distraught relatives

Demonstrators were furious with local police, accusing them of not doing their jobs properly.

"We have no use for these security services if they cannot prevent attacks," Ali Mohammed, 30, who lost a relative in the bombing, told the AFP news agency.

"We blame Hilla police for this tragedy because they didn't take the necessary measures to protect innocent people," Hussein Hassoun, who lost two nephews, told the Associated Press.

Screen grab of the scene of a car bomb in Hilla
29 July 2004: A suicide car bomb kills at least 70 people in a busy street in Baquba
2 March 2004: Co-ordinated attacks outside mosques in Karbala and Baghdad kill more than 170 people and wound dozens more
10 February 2004: A suicide bomb outside a police station in Iskandariya kills 55 people
1 February 2004: A double suicide attack outside Kurdish party offices kill 105 in Irbil
23 August 2003: A car bomb outside a mosque in Najaf kills at least 83 people
19 August 2004: A truck bomb outside UN headquarters in Baghdad kills 22 people
Sources: AP, AFP

Local police were quoted on Monday as saying they had launched an investigation, and several people had been arrested in connection with the blast.

The Associated Press described distressing scenes as relatives combed the town's morgue, looking for their loved ones.

Many victims could not be identified because they had been so charred or dismembered by the blast.

Bodies had to lie out in the open because the morgue could not cope with the number of casualties.

Those who had managed to find their dead relatives loaded wooden coffins on to pick-up trucks so they could prepare the bodies for burial.

Provincial governor Walid al-Janabi told reporters in Hilla that there would be no funeral procession because of "security reasons," the AP said. Police reportedly said they feared further attacks.

'Senseless violence'

The car bomb, believed to have been driven by a suicide bomber, targeted a queue of people applying for work in the security services.

People in a nearby market were caught up in the massive blast.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan condemned the attack "in the strongest possible terms".

He said the only purpose of such "repeated acts of senseless violence" was to "undermine the prospects for a democratic and prosperous Iraq".

Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said on Monday that Iraq's security forces were still unable to take on the insurgency without the help of US troops.

"Iraqis should be able to start taking over more and more security responsibilities very soon," he wrote in the Wall Street Journal before the attack in Hilla.

"But we will continue to need and to seek assistance for some time to come."

See the destruction caused by the car bomb


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