BAGHDAD — An explosion tore through a men's garment district Thursday afternoon in central Baghdad, killing at least nine people, wounding 50 more and adding to worries that the relative calm of recent months may not last.
Since Monday, 12 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq in a string of suicide bombings, improvised explosive device (IED) attacks and rocket fire.
After a low of 76 in November, the number of Iraqi civilians killed in Baghdad is rising, with March now on pace, with 104 dead so far, to become the fourth straight month to top the previous month, according to statistics kept by McClatchy. Already, the 325 wounded in the first 13 days of March tops the 322 hurt in January and seems likely to surpass the 403 wounded in February.
Car bombs, such as the one that struck al Khayam Street on Thursday, are exploding in increasing numbers and are seemingly mocking American officials' claims that blast walls and security enhancements had made it difficult for insurgents to use the weapon. So far this month, there have been five car bombings, one less than in all of last month and one more than in all of January.
Public killings happen daily. Gunmen using a silencer killed an assistant at a free local newspaper on Thursday as he sat in his car. On Feb. 22, the head of an Iraqi journalists association also was shot. He died from his injuries five days later in the hospital.
Thursday's bombing occurred three miles from where two bombings — one from an IED, the other from a suicide bomber — killed nearly 70 people last week.
Compared with 2006 and 2007, violence levels remain "significantly lower," Maj. Gen. Kevin Bergner said Wednesday. But he added that the battle in Iraq remains a "tough fight," though he said he was encouraged by the Iraqi army's progress and local militias' contributions in the past year.
"Despite the progress we are making and despite the dramatic improvements we have seen, we have said all along there will be tough days. And there will be periods when we see al Qaida adapt to new tactics and new approaches, and we will as well," Bergner said.
The latest U.S. military deaths came Wednesday when three soldiers were killed and two were wounded by six Kaytusha rockets that hit their base near Nasiriyah, southeast of Baghdad.
On Monday, five soldiers and an interpreter were killed in Baghdad when a person wearing an explosive vest detonated himself in the Mansour neighborhood. Three soldiers were wounded in the blast. On Thursday, the military announced it had detained five people in connection with the attack.
In a separate attack Monday in east of Baqouba in Diyala province, three soldiers were killed in an IED explosion.
Bad news came from throughout Iraq.
On Thursday, the U.S. military said that an American soldier had killed a young Iraqi girl on Wednesday when he fired a warning shot into an earthen berm the girl was behind. The shot was intended to warn a woman nearby who the soldiers felt might have been sending signals about the soldiers, the military statement said.
On Thursday, Iraq's rapidly shrinking Christian community was dealt another blow when the body of the archbishop of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq was found near Mosul, in the country's north. Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho had been kidnapped Feb. 29 in Mosul as he left Mass.
An anonymous caller told people at the church where to find his body, according to Iraqi police. The cause of death remained uncertain, but some reports said the archbishop was ill and died while in his kidnappers' custody.
Christians demonstrated in a neighborhood in Irbil to denounce his death and demand protection.
Southwest of Kirkuk, a female suicide bomber killed two people and wounded six others when she blew herself up following a city council meeting, according to the U.S. military. It was at least the 10th such bombing carried out by a woman in recent months.
There also has been violence in southern Iraq.
On Tuesday, as many as 16 pilgrims returning from the holy city of Najaf were killed on a bus when a roadside bomb known as an explosively formed penetrator, or EFP, targeted a U.S. military convoy.
In the city of Kut, members of the Mahdi Army militia, the Iraqi army and U.S. Special Forces have been fighting, with 11 people reported killed.
Along the Iranian border in Sulaimaniyah province, government officials said Iranian armed forces shelled five mountain villages Thursday for more than two hours. No casualties were reported.
The Iranian military bombarded the same area last autumn in an attempt to strike members of the anti-Iranian Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan, or PJAK. The group is closely allied with the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, which has strongholds in northern Iraq along the Turkish border.
Both groups seek the creation of an independent Kurdistan and are considered terrorist organizations by Turkey and Iran. Three weeks ago, the Turkish military struck PKK forces in Iraq.
(Lannen reports for the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader. McClatchy special correspondent Yaseen Taha contributed from Sulaimaniyah.)