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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 May 2007, 14:27 GMT 15:27 UK
Car bomb explodes in Iraqi city
Scene of bombing in Kufa
The bomber drove his car into a crowded market
At least 16 people have been killed and dozens wounded in a suicide car bomb attack in the southern Iraqi town of Kufa, officials said.

The explosion destroyed a restaurant and severely damaged shops in an open-air market, about 400m from the town's main mosque.

Kufa, a centre of Shia Muslim pilgrimage, is a large town 170km (110 miles) south of the capital, Baghdad.

Last month, more than 70 people died in a car bombing in nearby Karbala.

Tuesday's attack was the latest in a series of attacks on predominantly Shia areas south of Baghdad apparently aimed at increasing sectarian tensions.

The BBC's James Shaw in Baghdad says Kufa has not previously suffered as much violence as neighbouring Shia cities because it is a key powerbase of radical Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr and is therefore well defended by his powerful militia, the Mahdi Army.

Mr Sadr, meanwhile, published a list of what he called rogue elements in the Mahdi Army, who he said were using violence to stir up sectarian strife.

Lawmakers loyal to him said these elements were acting on behalf of external political forces. Iran denies US accusations it is aiding Mahdi Army fighters.

'Pools of blood'

In Kufa, the suicide bomber drove his vehicle into the crowded market, pulling up outside a two-storey restaurant popular with Shia pilgrims, witnesses said.

Map of Kufa

"He tried to park the vehicle and then it exploded," Mohan Ali told Reuters. "There were many bodies."

The blast destroyed the restaurant, blowing out the windows, knocking over tables and scattering body parts.

"At least five or six people were killed inside the restaurant," the owner, Ali al-Hamadani, said. "There are pools of blood on the floor."

A crowd gathered at the scene of the attack afterwards and began chanting "No, No, America!"

A car bombing in Kufa in December killed 31 people and injured 45.

Sunni mosque

In Baghdad, meanwhile, a Sunni group said that the security forces had ordered the closure of a Sunni mosque in the mainly Shia Bayaa district and detained the mosque's four guards.

An Iraqi military spokesman said troops had arrested four men who had been firing at citizens from the mosque.

The Sunni group, the Iraqi Islamic Party, said the mosque had been repeatedly attacked by Shia fighters in recent weeks.

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