(Haidar Fatehi ~ Associated Press)
BAGHDAD -- A suicide car bomber struck in the main Shiite district of the capital Wednesday, killing at least nine people as the U.S. military said its troop buildup in Baghdad was nearly complete. Three more U.S. soldiers were killed by bombs in the capital.
At least 85 Iraqis were killed or found dead nationwide, police reported. They also included eight people who lost their lives when a roadside bomb destroyed their minibus about 20 miles south of Baghdad.
The suicide attack occurred at dusk near a police station in Sadr City, the Baghdad stronghold of the Mahdi Army militia. Three policemen and six civilians were killed and 34 people were wounded, police said.
Ahmed Mohammed Ali, 31, who sells ice cream and cigarettes in Sadr City, said the blast sent a cloud of black smoke billowing into the air.
"I saw police and civilian cars on fire," Ali said, "There were several wounded people, including women and children, and most of the wounds were caused by burns. There were charred bodies near pools of blood."
No group claimed responsibility, but suicide bombings are generally associated with Sunni religious extremists led by al-Qaida. Such extremists consider Shiites heretics and collaborators with the Americans.
Also Wednesday, two U.S. soldiers were killed and two others were wounded when a bomb devastated their vehicle in southern Baghdad, the U.S. command said. Another soldier died in a blast in western Baghdad, the command said.
Persistent bombings threaten to undermine the 11-week U.S. effort to restore order in the capital, which was wracked by a wave of Sunni-Shiite slaughter last year that plunged the country into civil conflict.
"The explosions show the incompetence of the security plan," said Saif Abdul-Khaliq, 28, who owns a stationery shop near the Sadr City blast site. "We expected security from this plan, but the only thing we got was traffic jams and blasts."
U.S. officials also fear the bombings will provoke a violent response from Shiite militiamen, who have generally assumed a lower profile in the capital since the crackdown began Feb. 14.
Despite the latest carnage, U.S. and Iraqi officials presented an upbeat picture of the security situation in the capital, insisting that sectarian killings were down while acknowledging the threat from the bombers.
The U.S. military announced Wednesday that its buildup of forces was nearly complete with the arrival this week of the fourth of five brigades ordered to Baghdad by President Bush in January.
About 3,700 soldiers from the 4th Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division, based in Fort Lewis, Washington, will be deployed in the Baghdad area and in northern Iraq, the military said.
When the fifth brigade arrives by next month, the U.S. command will have about 160,000 American troops in the country.