Children massacred in Iraq bombs

A boy injured in the blast is carried into hospital
Crowds had gathered for a ceremonial ribbon-cutting
Dozens of children have been killed in a sequence of bomb blasts in Baghdad.

Officials said at least 34 children were among 41 or more people killed when bombs were detonated near a water treatment plant as US troops passed by.

At least 130 others were injured, many among crowds gathered for the opening ceremony at the plant who had gone up to collect sweets from the soldiers.

It was the most number of children to die in one incident since the war, on a day that saw fatal attacks across Iraq.

The casualties include:

'Evil attack'

Reports from Baghdad said hospitals struggled to cope with the influx of casualties from the bombings in the poor south-west al-Ummal district.

Map of Baghdad showing al-Ummal
Many of the injured - who included 10 US soldiers - suffered shrapnel wounds in the blasts which began at about 1300 (0900 GMT), correspondents said.

Pools of blood formed on the hospital floors, while at the scene of the blasts people picked through blood-stained wreckage to recover body parts, news agencies said.

Children who survived the attack described how they had been rushing towards the US convoy to collect sweets from the troops.

"The Americans called us, they told us come here, come here, asking us if we wanted sweets," 12-year-old Abdel Rahman Dawoud told the Associated Press news agency from his hospital bed where he lay naked, with shrapnel embedded all over his body.

"We went beside them, then a car exploded."

An Iraqi policeman tells people to stay away from the blast scene
Many victims were caught trying to help those hit in the first blast
Officials say the first blast was soon followed by another car bomb and then the explosion of a device on the road. It remains unclear whether the convoy or the crowds were the prime target.

"This attack was carried out by evil people who do not want the Iraqis to celebrate and don't want [construction] projects in Iraq," National Guard Lieutenant Ahmad Saad told the Associated Press news agency at the scene.

The BBC's Caroline Hawley in Baghdad says the sequence of explosions was a highly co-ordinated attack to prevent the reconstruction of Iraq, as well as spreading fear.

'Good crack at success'

Violence continued in the restive city of Falluja, where doctors said a woman and a child were among at least three people killed when US forces launched air strikes on a house.

The military said it targeted supporters of the Islamic militant, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who is blamed for a string of kidnappings and suicide bombings.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged that insurgents and kidnappers were having some success in making people believe that Iraq was not ready for democracy.

But in an interview with West Virginia radio station WCHS he said that there was information that Iraqis, including those in the minority Shia population, were "getting fed up with Zarqawi and his terrorist crowd killing their friends and neighbours and relatives".

"I am personally convinced that we've got a very good crack - the Iraqis have a very good crack - at being successful in this important and noble effort," he added.

Iraq's interim Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh said the government was determined to retake rebel cities like Falluja within weeks and to hold elections as planned early next year.

"We aim to regain control of these areas before the month of November," he told reporters, expanding on earlier remarks by interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi that "decisive action" was being planned for Falluja.

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